Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Atheists Can Be IDers, Too

Adversaries of the view that the universe shows evidence of having been intelligently designed (ID) have been successful in keeping ID out of public schools because they've managed to persuade school boards and school administrators that ID is a fundamentally religious hypothesis. Since ID entails the existence of a designer, and since that designer has to be God, ID must be religious, or so the argument goes.

It's a philosophically bogus argument, but educators, unfortunately, are often too philosophically naive to see the problems with it (For starters, there's no reason, as you will see below, why the designer must be God).

Even so, atheist physicist John Gribbin has apparently made the ID opponents' case even less persuasive than it was previously. Gribbin offers us this hypothesis:
[I]s our universe a designer universe? By this, I do not mean a God figure, an "intelligent designer" monitoring and shaping all aspects of life. Evolution by natural selection, and all the other processes that produced our planet and the life on it, are sufficient to explain how we got to be the way we are, given the laws of physics that operate in our universe.
However, there is still scope for an intelligent designer of universes as a whole. Modern physics suggests that our universe is one of many, part of a "multiverse" where different regions of space and time may have different properties (the strength of gravity may be stronger in some and weaker in others). If our universe was made by a technologically advanced civilisation in another part of the multiverse, the designer may have been responsible for the Big Bang, but nothing more.
There are a couple of things to say about this. First, a designer that is only responsible for the Big Bang is not really a designer, it's just an initiating force and there's no reason to think it intelligent. Second, it's not just the origin of the universe that needs to be explained as I discuss in the previous post (This Too shall Pass).

In any event, Gribbin goes on to describe how a non-theistic intelligent designer might have operated and then adds this:
This might sound far-fetched, but the startling thing about this theory is how likely it is to happen – and to have happened already. All that is required is that evolution occurs naturally in the multiverse until, in at least one universe, intelligence reaches roughly our level. From that seed point, intelligent designers create enough universes suitable for evolution, which bud off their own universes, that universes like our own (in other words, suitable for intelligent life) proliferate rapidly, with "unintelligent" universes coming to represent a tiny fraction of the whole multiverse. It therefore becomes overwhelmingly likely that any given universe, our own included, would be designed rather than "natural".
While the intelligence required to do the job may be (slightly) superior to ours, it is of a kind that is recognisably similar to our own, rather than that of an infinite and incomprehensible God.
Note what Professor Gribbin is tacitly admitting: Our universe shows evidence of having been intelligently designed. In fact, the evidence is so strong, apparently, that Professor Gribbin is prepared to acknowledge that there is a designer behind it as long as the designer isn't God.

Moreover, this argument inadvertently opens the door for two consequences that would horrify Professor Gribbin and his fellow atheists if he realized what he was doing.

First, as I indicated above, he undercuts the argument of ID opponents against teaching ID in public schools. That argument is based largely on the allegedly religious nature of ID which, it is often falsely asserted, entails the existence of God as the designer. Gribbins' argument, though, explicitly claims that the universe is designed and that the designers are creatures much like ourselves. Since a scientist like Gribbin is admitting the possibility that the designer is not a deity, it simply cannot be said that ID is inherently a religious theory.

Second, any argument which invokes the multiverse in order to increase the probabilities of a life-sustaining universe existing by chance without the need for God is actually self-defeating. Here's why: If there really are an infinity of different universes, as the multiverse hypothesis suggests, then there must be an infinity of worlds capable of sustaining life. As long as the probability of one of these worlds being created by a transcendent intelligent agent (TIA) is greater than zero then, given an infinity of such worlds, one of them must have been created by a TIA and therefore such an agent must exist. Thus, so far from providing the naturalist with an escape from the conclusion that there is a TIA, the multiverse, if such there be, actually guarantees the existence of one. Furthermore, if ID opponents wish to stick with their claim that a cosmic designer must be God then surely God must exist.

This is certainly not the result that the atheists were hoping to achieve by touting the multiverse as a way of making our highly improbable universe inevitable without having to invoke a deity to explain it.

Anyway, as I read Gribbins' article I was struck by how far into the realm of the fantastical atheists are willing to burrow in order to find a theory that will allow them to explain the exquisite design of the universe without having to attribute it to the extraordinarily powerful, intelligent and personal mind of God.

Thanks to Telic Thoughts for the tip.