The Argument from Design is one of the classic and most time-honored rational proofs for the existence of God. Yet its primary line of reasoning not only appealed to the ancient thinkers - indeed, it continues to enjoy popularity among a good number of contemporary scientists and philosophers to this day.
The essential thrust of the Argument from Design is this: The Universe exhibits a remarkable complexity, lawfulness, and order throughout. In the biological realm, the appearance of intentional design manifest in the harmonious functioning of living organisms is unmistakable. It seems profoundly unreasonable to attribute these phenomena to mere happenstance. Thus, we must infer that an intelligent Being is in fact responsible for them.
Enlightenment Period skeptics, beginning with David Hume, have challenged the Argument from Design on many counts, and their objections have been reviewed and rebutted by more recent thinkers. However, bad habits die hard, so moderns frequently declare that the Argument has been debunked, and tend to recycle even the most dubious of Hume's critiques as if they were beyond reproach. Perhaps the most talked-about contemporary atheist who has levelled Humean attacks against the Argument from Design is Richard Dawkins, whom our own favorite blogger-skeptic has borrowed from in his discussion of the topic.
The truth of the matter is that the objections to the Argument from Design are not very impressive philosophically. Many of them are flawed so seriously that they are naught more than chains of fallacy in disguise. In this post, we will confine ourselves to those counterarguments deemed by our friend to be worthy of an appearance on his blog. His anti-Argument-from-Design is formulated there as follows:
If you say you need an N+1 creator to design an N, then God is even more amazing than the universe, so you have simply pushed the question back one level, and now you have the problem of who designed God. And if you want to say that God doesn’t need to be designed for some incomprehensible reason, then you can say the same about the universe, for some incomprehensible reason.
Now, if you are philosophically inclined, reading this may already have given you a serious headache. But let's examine the argument he is presenting and attempt to define why it is flawed.
Basically, the counterargument proceeds like this: The Universe is incredibly complex, amazing, etc. This leads us to think a Creator must be behind it. But this Creator, in order to have produced such an amazing Universe, must Himself be even greater than that Universe. So, if we are going to ask how the Universe could be so intricate in the absence of a Creator, then we must ask the same about God - how could a Being so amazing possibly exist without a Creator?
The error in reasoning here is simple. When we observe the Universe's breathtaking harmony, we are faced with two options - either this order is a mere accidental grouping of blind material forces into lawful patterns, or it is an intentional design expressing itself through matter. The former seems terribly unlikely and forced, so we choose the latter.
But it is crucial to understand why the first option is counterintuitive - it is because we don't expect inert, brute matter to become organized into patterns of its own accord. There is nothing in pure physicality that suggests that it should have to or would tend to conform to any kind of intelligible principle whatsoever. So we naturally conclude that this must be the result of an external cause who designed the Universe on purpose.
God, on the other hand, is not something we believe to have emerged "by accident" from the chaotic motions of physical particles. He is a metaphysical Being devoid of any material properties - the source of order as opposed to an ordered entity. Wondering who designed God is like wondering who "designed" a concept - the term is simply inappropriate, since ideas are not constructed from raw materials; they are discovered or perceived. Attempting to apply the notion of design to God is ultimately an exercise in futility.
Considering an example of design drawn from our earthly experience will clarify this point. An architect formulates a coherent layout for the construction of a new home. That model is, so to speak, "imposed upon" the wood, brick, plaster, etc., by workmen who implement the instructions of the architect, and the result is a house that physically embodies the conceptual plan. Neither the materials alone, nor the architectural scheme alone, would ever bring anything particularly impressive into existence by themselves. It is only when the vision in the mind of the artisan finds expression in a physical medium that we see "design" manifesting itself.
So the question of the design of the Universe, which is comprised of matter, is legitimate, while the question "who designed God" is not.
Our good friend continues:
Now some people will argue that God is simple, and hence He fulfills the N-1 option above. But what kind of ‘simple’ is this? Not any kind of ‘simple’ that we can comprehend. Basically it’s just playing a word game, calling something simple when by any normal human standard we would call it complex.
This part of the argument betrays hazy thinking in the domains of theology and science. The premise underlying it is that whatever is responsible for the Universe must be as complicated, if not moreso, than the Universe itself.
Upon reflection, however, it should be obvious that this is not the case. Scientific theories aim to explain the complex phenomena observed in the world through the use of simple, general constructs that have the ability to account for an enormous number of particulars. Time and time again, science has revealed that what manifests itself to our senses as staggering complexity presents itself to our minds as the expression of a small set of fundamental principles. In fact, scientists' ultimate dream is to formulate a single Theory of Everything that will elegantly account for all observed phenomena in the material world.
If the skeptic's reasoning were correct, then this objective would be deemed absurd or even impossible from the get-go, since any theory of such grandeur would of necessity be more cumbersome and intricate than the subject matter it explains.
To summarize, then, we see that the concept of positing God as the ultimate source of the harmony in the Universe is actually quite logical - it is the natural culmination of the process of understanding our world. At first we take in a wealth of sensory information and feel overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of our environment. Then we slowly but surely move from the material details to the realm of the theoretical and conceptual, and begin to see myriad phenomena as expressions of an underlying set of rational principles or laws of nature. As we transition from experience to principle and from data point to concept, we similarly transition from complexity to simplicity and from chaos to order. This process of simplification and unification eventually leads us to the recognition of the Source of the majestic system of physical law itself - the Creator of the Universe.