Is Belief in God Rational? Part Six
The Objection from the Lack of Definition of Complexity
The objection from evolution is based on the argument that evolution provides us with a mechanism which creates complexity without the intervention of a guiding hand. From here one can infer that entities or events which seem designed are not necessarily so. A snowflake appears complex, but was nevertheless formed without a guiding hand. The same is the case with a baby formed from a sperm and an egg without a guiding hand.
From here there are those who argue that there is no necessity whatsoever to see guidance in the formation of a complex object. We assume that an object has a creator only when the object contains the creator’s ‘signature’ (perhaps this is the difference between the argument from design and from complexity).
We will bring two examples for two such directions:
- Ilya Leibowitz’s argument, that the paintings of the Sistine Chapel are attributed to Michelangelo only because in our experience paintings are done by painters, and not because of their complexity. Complexity in and of itself do not require a creator.
- Another example brought in the comments is a simple paper staple, which we also assume has a creator, only due to our experience that metallic threads with that kind of shape are done by people. We have a clear signature of the creator, even without complexity.
Where Is The Error?
I don’t see the point in disputing the assumption that something complex was not created at random, since it is based on probability. A complex object is something rare and unique, and therefore it is less likely that it was created without a guiding hand (aside from an object which is its own cause, but we already dealt with this in previous columns).
When we see a monkey jumping on a typewriter and creating a sonnet of Shakespeare, which is clearly a rare and unique thing, it is clear to us that this is not coincidental. Not because we know that sonnet, but because of the complexity. There is indeed a miniscule chance that it is a coincidence, but a comparison between these two alternatives would favor a guiding hand. This is the principle of probabilistic sufficient reason.
Also in the case of the staple, if it was such a simple structure that the odds for its spontaneous creation was very high (such as a normal line of metal wire), then even the signature would not lead us to the conclusion that a human created it. If so, even here we have a probabilistic comparison between two alternatives. The signature mechanism is not essentially different from the principle of sufficient reason.
So How Do I Define Complexity?
And what of the snowflake, or the baby? These are clearly complex things, yet nevertheless they are formed by themselves. My argument is that they are not really formed by themselves, but with the gracious assistance of the laws and forces of nature. Once again we have a mixture between a question within the laws and the question outside the laws.
From a scientific point of view the mechanistic explanation is satisfactory, and even if not – it must be sharpened with scientific tools. However, from a philosophical point of view when we see such an event, it is clear that there is a guiding hand which created laws which guide the process to its unique conclusion. And again, the argument is probabilistic, but outside the laws (how many systems of laws will lead from a sperm and an egg to a baby)?
If so, how do I define complexity? As far as I am concerned there is no difference between a snowflake, a staple, a baby, or the whole world. The definition is probabilistic. In more scientific language I will say that complexity is measured in terms of entropy (= the more complex, the less entropic).
If we see a house plant fall from the top of a roof and breaking apart, it appears obvious (if saddening), but if we see someone throwing the collection of shattered wood in the air, forming a whole house plant (or a 747), we will assume that there is a guiding hand.
A complete house plant is a more organized and unique object (if you will: contains more information) than a broken house plant, and therefore contains less entropy. The principle of probabilistic sufficient reason states that the first event does not require an explanation via the rules (since the result has great entropy), but the second certainly does. Even if we find an explanation via the laws, we will still assume that there is a guiding hand behind it. We will look for the magician who is playing us.
If so, the questions regarding the definition of complexity derives from observance within the laws. Within the laws there is a difference between a plane (which was made by people, and it is not likely that a passing storm would form it by itself), and a snowflake, monkey, or baby (where there are known laws which describe this formation). But outside of the laws all of these are complex things, because the definition of complexity is completely objective probability. In terms of entropy no-one disputes that there is great complexity in a living body.
It’s important to understand that I am not dealing at all with the creationist challenge to evolution by force of the second law of thermodynamics (i.e. how could there be an unguided process which reduces entropy). This is a scientific question, and one must find an answer with scientific tools (e.g. that in an open system it is possible that entropy will build up in other areas). Here I am asking questions outside the laws, which belong to the field of philosophy, and therefore there is no reason to rely here on the question of open systems, equilibrium &c.
I once heard an interesting analogy which explains the invalidity of this objection. In Berkeley University in California, a project is being conducted whose purpose is the location of intelligent (!) life outside of our planet (called SETI).
The researchers in the project use radio detectors to collect radio signals on a specific frequency, analyze them, and so examine whether there are intelligent beings behind them. It is clear that they have certain criteria according to which they decide if this signal is sufficiently unique that it would be correct to conclude that an intelligent agent is behind it, or not.
Our intelligent objector should reject this project entirely, and explain to the ‘fools’ who run it that they believe in an imaginary friend. In actual fact, their complex radio signal is like a snowflake created in a blind process. By his methods there is no way to arrive from unique findings at the conclusion that behind them is an intelligent agent, because there is, in essence, no definition for complexity or uniqueness. A complex message can also be formed in a coincidental and blind manner (such as pulsar frequencies &c).
The message we receive on our world, is also a kind of SETI project, and the signals that we receive are many times more complex than anything the SETI can dream of discovering. BY us the project is constantly failing, because we explain these complexities in evolutionary terms.
Not that they are wrong, but these are explanations within the laws, which are not related to the question if there is someone who created the laws which brought about these complexities. Even the signals which will be discovered (if they ever are) by the regular SETI project are created in some technical manner (there is some kind of transmitter/initiator of signals). This doesn’t prevent the project members from reaching conclusions regarding the ‘imaginary friend’ which created this transmitter and is behind the messages it transmits.
The Number of Tries
Now we must clarify another point. If the definition of complexity is probabilistic, then the conclusion that the object was not formed by coincidence depends on another assumption: that the number of attempts to create this object is sufficiently low. If monkeys jump on the typewriter for 200,000 years, then even without a guiding hand they could produce the chain “tobeornottobe”.
If so, to make the argument of probabilistic sufficient reason, one must confirm that the object is very unique, and that the number of relevant attempts is low relative to its uniqueness (its entropy). The entropic principle deals with this question.
The Entropic Principle
This term serves two contrary meanings. Creationists use it to argue that the compatibility of the world to man’s needs is testament to a guiding hand. Atheists use the same term for an objection to the creationist argument. They argue that if there was no such compatibility then we wouldn’t be here. Our ability to be excited by this ‘miracle’ is based on its happening.
If we return to the physical-theological proof outside of the laws, it is based on the fact that a system of four fundamental laws of physics with exact and coordinated values of physical constants, where a slight deviation in the value of one of them would prevent the existence of chemistry and biology, and therefore also life and evolution. This is what is known as fine-tuning. This is the creationist entropic formulation. The atheist objection argues that this is precisely the proof (in the opposite direction – AIWAC): the fact that we are here is only possible because of this ‘wonderful’ coincidence.
Although not a few writers present the atheist entropic principle in this formulation, it is clear that it doesn’t hold water. Hawking describes a man who stands before a skilled firing squad, all of whom miss, leaving him alive. He argues that the survivor should not show excitement at this, since if they had not missed he simply wouldn’t have been here.
According to this amusing principle any strange thing thanks to which we were saved should not surprise because without it we would not be here. In contrast, a surprising event that happens to our peers is indeed cause for wonder, since we would still exist without it.
This is of course folly. What the more intelligent objectors mean to say is that there were many attempts to form a world with different sets of laws, and one of them is our world. We of course exist in this specific world, since only it is compatible for humans.
Alternatively, there were many executions in which the squad did not miss, and the number of attempts is on a scale of one divided by the odds that they will all miss. Now, someone who is really saved should not show amazement over it.
However, if this is the full formulation of the atheist entropic principle, then it is really an insignificant argument. To solve the problem of probabilistic sufficient reason, the second assumption would suffice e.g. the argument that there were many prior attempts which failed, and therefore it is no wonder that one of them succeeded. What does the statement that if it weren’t for the success we wouldn’t be here really add? Apparently the explanation as to why we are on the successful attempt. But that is obvious, and that it not what the debate is about.
The Atheistic Tea Party
The assumption that there were an infinite number of universes with different laws of physics is a very problematic assumption. According to this proposal, there should be an infinite number of universes different from our own (since the number of possible sets of laws is infinite), in every one of which are different laws of physics.
None of us has seen them, and apparently cannot see them. If so, this is precisely Russel’s celestial teapot, except that now it orbits the atheist planet.
Even someone who sees the broken pieces of the house plant return to form a complete house plant, will say that there was apparently an unlimited number of attempts that failed (even though we don’t know of any such attempt), and we are observing the one that was successful.
The atheist creates infinite universes (or situations) of various shapes and sizes, in every one of which are different laws of physics, and apparently different and strange creatures are formed in them (demons and fairies, or perhaps Gods), which are (evolutionary?) products of those laws of nature.
What is common to all of them is that no-one saw them, but for an obvious reason: they cannot be observed (they are transparent). The teapots sitting on the atheist’s table allow the setting of Louis Carrol’s Mad Hatter’s tea party. This is the ‘rational’ and ‘economic’ alternative to belief in God.
What is Unique About Our World?
The next objection in the series is the argument that there is nothing unique about our system of laws of physics. They may create chemistry and enable biology, but every set of laws will create some things. The argument is that within any system of laws some creatures will be created, which will perhaps be very different from us, but there is nothing unique about us.
To us of course it appears familiar and unique. To support his argument, there are even various computer experiments that show that various complex creatures are formed from many systems of laws.
But this is foolishness. An overwhelming majority of systems of laws do not create a thing. They will stay to lie there with no real development. These computer experiments are similar to the experiment I described regarding “tobeornottobe”. All are based on a very unique system of laws (which allow complexity and development). However these are only a miniscule fraction among the total amount of possibilities of systems of laws.
To demonstrate this practically (we love facts, after all, not speculations), we will do a simple experiment. We will look within our universe, in which there are laws of physics congenial to the creation of life (chemistry and biology): On how many of the planets known to us (and there quite a few of these) have we found creatures, of any kind, that developed at a level of complexity similar to biological life (and I’m not even talking about consciousness, thought, will &c)?
As far as I know, the answer is: precisely one. This is a non-exhaustive but attainable statistic, which points to the odds of spontaneous formation of creatures in random environmental conditions.
Sadly, I didn’t manage to deal with randomness and quantums, and certainly not with the move from the philosophical God to the religious God. The (ynet – AIWAC) board thought that it might in any event be a good idea to take a break at this stage, and perhaps continue in the future. Therefore this is the last column in his series, so I will briefly summarize what we have brought up so far.
From the headline for the series you can understand that my purpose was not to show that there is a God, but that belief in God is derived from the principles of rational thought (Occam’s razor, the scientific method and findings, causation and sufficient reason). The reader is invited to check if this was achieved.
It can be checked on two levels: A. Is the basis for my conclusions indeed rational (even if not dispositive, and even if one can debate it), or is this mysticism? B. Is this basis a necessary derivative of rational thought (and then rational atheism is not possible)
As a background, I will mention that I showed that atheistic outlooks require arriving at the forfeiture of the principle of causation/sufficient reason, or the invention of invisible universes and creatures, or the viewing of the laws of nature as their own cause (i.e. belonging to logic rather than physics) &c.
Beyond the fact that belief in God is derived from the principles of rational thought, one can show that it is a condition for rational thought (without it there is no justification for rationalism itself). Similarly, one can show that it is a necessary condition for a consistent ethics (this doesn’t mean that an atheist is immoral, just that his ethics is inconsistent). Maybe later on I will write about these subjects as well (you have been warned!).
In conclusion, I definitely enjoyed the journey, and I thank all those who followed and responded.