You Want To Talk Design? I’m All Ears

One of the biggest fallacies in the argument for a deity is the following effrontery to logic:

“Alright, yes, the world was created 4.6 billion years ago, the Universe was made with the Big Bang. But it was a Supernatural Force that set it all in motion”

In relative terms, this is one of the more innocuous forms of theism in the sense that it’s far more esoteric and less dogmatic than mainstream Qu’ran/Bible thumping. However, it does a great deal of damage by ensnaring plenty of otherwise intelligent people into ‘realising’ the truth about God.

Clearly, there is no way to prove the existence, or lack thereof, of a Supernatural Force that sets it all in motion. It sounds like a good solution because it’s so abstract and beyond reach.

Then again, it makes God/Supernatural Force seem quite lazy. Twiddle with the constants and press play – that’s one hell of a retirement.

In any case, this argument plays on the God of the Gaps idea. Science doesn’t have an answer to this particular question? Insert God. It’s made all the more easier since the question of Origin at the level of the Big Bang is so apparently beyond reach it’s one hell of a gap to fill.

As usual, as with any Gap God, it creates far more problems than it solves. This Supernatural Force, this constant twiddler, whence did he come from? Ah, he is infinite. But is it not simpler to conclude that it is time which is infinite, or the universe, or whatever, instead of bringing in the concept of a super-complex piece of abstract intellectual machinery that begun the whole thing on a whim?

There are multiple hypothesis in the world of academics about the time before the Big Bang. Two theories in particular I’d like to draw upon now: Colliding Branes and Fragmenting Universe.

Colliding Branes1 is the idea that the universe we live in is inside a four dimensional ‘membrane’ of sorts. Every time another Brane comes into collision with our own2, there is a Big Bang (or what appears to be one from inside our universe) and a lot of radiation and dark energy changes hands.

Fragmenting Universe3 is a similar, cyclic idea, which takes on the Brane idea and suggests that there is a Mother Universe of sorts, from which smaller fragments with lower entropy break off every now and then. This leads to an infinite cycle of fragments and no real discernible beginning.

The two theories seem rather strange and alien? It’s only natural, since they deal with four dimensional planes, whereas we can only just live with three. And this is just for starters. These two hypothesis are very weird.

But they are fundamentally different from deistic claims in many ways. For one, they build upon the knowledge accumulated in 4000 years of scientific investigation. They are also open to change, tinkering, adaptation. Deistic and religious claims are fundamental, unchangeable and have been more or less the same for the past 4000 years, despite a competing stream of science which consistently slams deism merely with the presence of evidence to the contrary.

pillars of creationAnd interestingly enough, these two theories (to name but two) make certain predictions about dark energy which are completely different, but, wait for it, demonstrable. Physicists denote dark energy behaviour with the parameter w. In a nutshell, dark energy that stays the same as the universe expands has a w value of -1. In Fragmenting Universe, w corresponds to a more negative value, such as -1.o5. Colliding Branes predicts a less negative w, with about -0.95.

A space probe to be launched in the near future, the ESA Planck4 satellite, will measure microwave background with the greatest precision to date, allowing w to be calculated to within 1%, thus heavily slanting the evidence in favour of one scenario (or neither of them, if w turns out to be -1.000000).

The point is that this can be done. Science advances inexorably. Religion and, let’s not ignore this, deism, is satisfied with the answer that “You can’t answer my question therefore God exists”. This is also the base argument of the more mystically and pseudo-scientifically shrouded “God set the physical constants at the beginning and then walked off to have a sandwich or something”.

Science will not be able to answer a lot of questions in my lifetime. Some questions are simply unanswerable. But science will answer a lot of questions in my lifetime. The aforementioned Planck mission has the potential for great things, among them, yet again, a rebuttal of the Deism argument.

Thinking about four dimensional Branes makes me giddy with the perspective. If it turns out to be completely on the wrong track? No problem! Find another theory that builds on the mistakes of the previous one and carry on. No harm done.

But I cannot remain satisfied with the deistic solution, a solution that merely begets more questions and does absolutely nothing with the question of origin. It merely stifles the answer.

Links and references:

  1. The Ekpyrotic Universe: Colliding Branes And The Origin Of The Hot Big Bang
  2. Cosmic Evolution In A Cyclic Universe
  3. Turnaround In Cyclic Cosmology
  4. ESA – Space Science – Planck Overview

23 Responses

  1. I have to admit…I really wanted to comment on this one…but everything just kinda went over my head. 😉 I guess that is why I don’t have a degree in science.

  2. Ah, I guess I wanted to show in as much a scientific way as possible that the God hypothesis for the origin of the Universe isn’t really the only possibility. In fact, it’s the least likely possibility, if that makes any sense.

    Thinking about membrane universes colliding into each other makes me swoon with a kind of ‘zoom out’ feeling.

  3. Well, as far as my beliefs go…God isn’t a good reason for anything happening…Yea, just because someone can’t explain it doesn’t mean God is a substitute. If you can’t explain something you can just as well say that a giant space termite is the reason for it.

    All that science speak is why I am STILL working on Dawkins book…LOL…so much of it is over my head. 😀 I am almost done with it though!!

  4. Absolutely – souping up a supernatural explanation kills the point of investigation and science.

    Dawkins’ is very good, his writing is masterful. I imagine you’re enjoying his latest, The God Delusion? I have yet to read The Selfish Gene *shame*

  5. The Hopeful Explanation Theory

    It seems that science automatically rules out theistic explanations as untenable, yet regards a non-evidentiary explanation as valid as long as (A) it’s couched in scientific terminology and (B) it opposes current theistic explanations.

    The Big Bang idea rests on the concept of nothing exploding into everything. Dark matter, not having been observed, is a theoretical construct to explain some observations that otherwise would have no non-theistic explanation.

    My question is this: why is the “hopeful” future explanation better than a current supernatural one?

    To my mind it all boils down to a matter of preference usually based on prevailing current worldviews. An atheist will not appreciate a Theistic explanation and vice-versa for a Theist.

  6. Don’t get my wrong. I will accept a Theist hypothesis the minute it provides evidence of any kind.

    Dark matter is far more real than a deity could ever hope to be (unless, as stated above, evidence were to be presented to the contrary)

    And that you cannot understand scientific terminology is not reason enough to dismiss a solid hypothesis which bears solid evidence.

  7. Science is not about ‘current worldviews’, unlike religion. Science is ever changing, based on principles of proof, empirical evidence and rationality. Theism is based on unwavering truths which cannot be proved (or disproved for that matter) and can only ever hope to serve as a futile explanation to a gap in mankind’s knowledge. I point the readers, again, to the case of Flat Earth, whereby the accepted religious dogma of the time was that the Earth was flat. I challenge you to be a non-hypocritical follower of religious doctrine and tell me the Earth is flat today – in that same vein of thought, a Big Bang theory today is far more satisfactory and _demonstrable_ theory than a deistic hypothesis. The ‘future’ hypothesis I talk about provide even deeper answers (and again, demonstrable answers) previously monopolised (unfairly) by supernatural ideas with no basis of any kind other than a God of the Gaps idea.

  8. Yep…working on “The God Delusion”. At the last part of it. It has never taken me so long to read a book before! LOL

    And as far as one explaination being better than another…for me it is more about allowing someone to believe what they want. If you want to fill in the gaps with God so be it…but don’t tell everyone else (like me) that they are wrong because we happen to believe the scientific explaination is out there, just we haven’t found it yet.

  9. Your logical reasoning could, if theists thought that same way too, nip much of the world’s problems in the bud. Unfortunately a lot of people (too many people) feel the need to spread their own enlightenment to other people.

    Good luck on the God Delusion!

  10. “I will accept a Theist hypothesis the minute it provides evidence of any kind.”

    There is only one ‘set’ of evidence. The interpretation thereof is dependant (to a large extent) on bias. Two individuals can look at the same data from the Cambrian fossil record. One (wishing to maintain a Theistic bias) sees evidence for a Theistic cause,(because the evidence fits), while the other (wishing to maintain an evolutionary bias) invents an explanation dependant on non-existent hopeful ‘evidence’ that may or may not be discovered at some future time.

    Two individuals can look at the same data from the study of polonium radio-halos in granites.. One (wishing to maintain a Theistic bias) sees evidence for a Theistic cause, (because the evidence fits), while the other (wishing to maintain an evolutionary bias) invents an explanation dependant on non-existent hopeful ‘evidence’ that may or may not be discovered at some future time.

    The point is that science used to be based on following the evidence wherever it leads, not forcing it down a garden-path towards a hopeful outcome.

    When science is dependant on hopeful evidence, it’s no longer science, it’s something else.

  11. No, you’re completely wrong. Indeed, more often than not, proponents of Theistic hypotheses will condemn science when it pushes the deity closer to the edge of the cliff, and openly embrace the scientific method when stupendously ambiguous and meaningless science comes up.

    Hubble shift, cosmic background radiation and radiometric dating all support the Big Bang theory.

    Only a bronze age myth supports the theist interpretation of Creation.

    Whereas you are right in noting there may be certain fringe huddles of controversial science which favour one outcome of evidence interpretation (second-hand smoking, racist eugenics and a long etc.) over another, cosmology is not such a controversial science. Evolutionary biology is not such a controversial science.

    It is, indeed, controversial for them to exist, in the eye of the Theist, because he/she can only look on as piling mountains of evidence render a theistic conclusion statistically negligible.

  12. P.S. I love how you put a spin on:

    “One (wishing to maintain a Theistic bias) sees evidence for a Theistic cause, (because the evidence fits), while the other (wishing to maintain an evolutionary bias) invents an explanation dependant on non-existent hopeful ‘evidence’ that may or may not be discovered at some future time.”

    It is truly masterful the way you make the Theist embrace all evidence as his own while the desperate scientist looks around for more evidence like a crack addict looking for a fix.

    The onus is on the Theists to prove a supernatural hypothesis (such as a deistic one), not on science to disprove it.

  13. “Only a bronze age myth supports the theist interpretation of Creation.”

    Interesting how you completely ignore the 2 examples I suggested…

    again, I suppose it depends on your bias as to where you are looking for information… from where I sit, most new research causes problems for naturalistic explanations.

  14. No, I didn’t. I dismissed them on the grounds of unsound science – a theistic interpretation of Cambrian fossil records would imply an overly complex creator, or something to push it along which is more complex than that which is being pushed along (ewww, what a yucky sentence. Sorry!)
    Most new research, if not already confirming established naturalistic hypotheses, it allows for them to be adapted and modified – the very core beauty of science. A theistic hypothesis moves into the convoluted, complicated and hopelessly negligible.

  15. “a theistic interpretation of Cambrian fossil records would imply an overly complex creator”

    You are exactly correct about that. What the cambrian explosion DOESN’T imply is any kind of gradualistic explanation… same goes for radio-halos in granite… no amount of evolutionary hocus-pocus can change that… which is why ‘science’ is hopeful for a future explanation. ‘Science’ does not have a current explanation despite your claim of confirmation.

    “Most new research, if not already confirming established naturalistic hypotheses, it allows for them to be adapted and modified – the very core beauty of science.”

    No, that is not the very core of science, it’s the very core of neo-darwinism… neo-darwinism can twist and fold upon itself to explain absolutely anything… which is why it is not a scientific theory… it cannot be falsified. A theory which can explain everything explains nothing.

    If scientific methodologies were adhered to, there would be no evolutionary theory. Fossil evidence alone refutes it.

  16. No! Science changes and adapts, which is its virtue! Otherwise the Earth would still be flat (in fact, Bible thumpers of the worst kind argue that, since it says in the Bible that the Earth is ‘unmoving’).

    Fossil evidence does not ‘refute’ evolution. It would take God himself to come down and tell us he made humans the way they are to ‘refute’ evolution. As it stands, natural selection is the most elegant and demonstrable explanation for the question of origins. A fossil is no more evidence of theist involvement than a soda can is evidence of rabbits.

  17. Isa 40:22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers

    Flat earth myth was not of biblical origin; I don’t know why people still try to perpetuate that it is.

    “A fossil is no more evidence of theist involvement than a soda can is evidence of rabbits.”

    I can say the same of evolution, but I’m sure the theory can be twisted somehow to make rabbits and soda cans relative in some way.

    Again it boils down to preference… the God hypothesis is rejected simply because it’s not liked. Evolution is preferred simply because God is not allowed in that door. The evidence can be applied to both theories quite well, and if ALL data is looked at, Creation is by far the best model.

    By the way, Intelligent Design Theory isn’t even concerned about who the designer is, only that design can be recognized. It’s always evolutionists who associate ID with religion, not the other way around.

  18. No, you cannot make the same claim for evolution. Natural selection has mountains of evidence supporting the claim. Creation is by far the most wasteful and inefficient model which only begets more questions than it answers. What Creationism tries is to associate soda cans with rabbits.

    Intelligent Design is inextricably linked with religion merely because of the somewhat far-fetched suggestion that there was a ‘designer’. Sure, bees are ‘designed’ to suckle nectar from flowers, but that is the result of millions of years of progressive natural selection. Natural selection is a mean and lean machine, made for the optimisation of the species. Intelligent Design is not only a hideously speculative and baseless conjecture but it insults the premise of human curiosity and it threatens the Pillar of Knowledge by throwing into everyone’s face one single answer: “it was designed – stop looking for another answer”.

  19. Incidentally:

    Matthew 4:8 :
    “Once again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory.”

    This is clearly only possible with a flat Earth. Isa could have just as well be referring to the shape of the disc of the Earth. In any case, it’s a futile myth to pursue, which makes Flat Earth Bible Literalists all the more resoundingly, well, stupid.

  20. “it was designed – stop looking for another answer”.

    And your viewpoint (it evolved – stop looking for another answer.) is correct because… ?

    I’ve never met a “Flat Earth Bible Literalist”… could you point one out?

  21. No, my viewpoint:

    “Evidence says: it evolved. Now lets look for better ways to explain it and refine the model”.

    I’m glad you seem to imply agreement with my description of ID proponents though.

  22. Interesting take, a nice mix of quasi-understanding, understanding and personal views. I enjoyed reading it.

  23. […] tried my hand in the fallacies of Intelligent Design with You Want To Talk Design? I’m All Ears, which essentially just tried to show that there are, in fact, many demonstrable theories and […]

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