Dawkins’ central argument, Part 2: restating the problem

To recap briefly, Dawkins’ central argument in The God Delusion consists of 6 points. So far, we have listed three:

  1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
  2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.
  3. The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.

Point number three is presented thus:

  • You cannot imply there is a designer, because then you have the origin of the designer to deal with.
  • The problem is in explaining the improbable with something more improbable
  • To explain the improbable, only a gradual process from the simple to the more complex will do.

Dawkins errs here, I believe, in how he presents his 3rd point. Granted, he has oversimplified here for brevity’s sake, but I think the problems are not due merely to oversimplification. Explaining the origin of the universe is more than just dealing with probabilities, although that is one way to approach the question. Here the issue often gets muddled up with arguments about whether God has to be a “simple” or “complex” being, forgetting that God would first of all not be subject to the same laws He created for the universe, and the issue of “simple or complex” is mostly irrelevant. Then, he assumes that a gradual process is required, which the evidence – for the Big Bang as well as the origin of species – does not support a gradual process. But, rather than get stuck here, let’s look at the origin of the universe from a different angle.

The cosmological argument in support of a god/creator is quite simple. While the basic argument has existed for many hundreds of years, within the last 100 years science has supplied support for the argument:

  1. Whatever has begun to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

You would think that our first point would be a given, especially with scientists. If we were to assume that some things could pop into being without cause, then science for the most part falls apart. We couldn’t duplicate anything with any real assurance, and we’d be left to worry about random acts of creation. There is talk in quantum theory about the uncaused appearance of theoretical particles from a quantum vacuum, however this is not in any way related to the appearance of both matter and energy from absolutely nothing (besides which, the created particles are all hypothetical particles). Quantum models rely on a fine-tuned preexisting set of conditions (which beg questions of origin, etc.) and suffer from other problems as we shall see. I don’t claim to be an expert, so I will run the risk of oversimplification and briefly deal with some of the proposed alternatives to a “caused” universe.

Prior to Einstein’s work on general relativity and the development of the Big Bang theory, the universe was thought (except in the Bible, of course) to be eternal. However, this has now been shown not to be the case. There are those trying to come up with other explanations, such as Carl Sagan with his oscillating universe concept. The oscillating universe, besides breaking some laws of physics, has been shown mathematically to not be infinite after all, as entropy is preserved from oscillation to oscillation. Eventually, working backward, you’ll eventually come to a point of origin. Furthermore, indications are that the rate of expansion might be accelerating, not decelerating as in the oscillating hypothesis.

Some have proposed an eternally-existing state out of which the universe simply appeared, without any specific cause. However, this assumes an eternally existing set of conditions suitable for the creation of the universe, which means that as soon as the proper conditions existed, the universe would form. This would require the universe also to be essentially infinite. In the alternative, we still need a catalyst (cause) to explain the change from a stable set of conditions to a large, sudden, explosion.

Stephen Hawking has admitted in A Brief History of Time that “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator.” He has, however, proposed the interesting Wave Function of the Universe hypothesis, in which the universe is finite, but does not have a Big Bang singularity. The point at which the universe came to be would be similar to the North Pole, a point among an infinite number of points on a curved surface, rather than a point on the end of an arrow. When you go back in time and approach the first fraction of a second of creation you never reach zero; somewhere close to zero time ceases to exist, and the curve takes you around going forward in time again.

Hawking accomplishes this by using imaginary numbers (i.e. the square root of -1) to avoid the singularity. The use of imaginary numbers is fairly routine, but they are always converted back to real numbers; in this case case, however, Hawking never converts the imaginary numbers back into real numbers. To do so, he has admitted, would cause the singularity to reappear.

However, even if we give Hawking his imaginary numbers, we still have a situation in which we have a point at which there are no prior points – in effect, there is still a beginning, it’s just not “zero.” To make his formula work, he also has to treat time as a spatial dimension, which is not necessarily justifiable. Hawking believes that this theory has done away with God (I believe he has calculated that there is a 95% chance that God doesn’t exist under this theory), but that does not appear to work in the event that God designed the universe this way. Hawking apparently has, by the way, admitted that this theory is not necessarily describing reality.

Looking at these proposals and the others that are out there, it seems that the chances that the universe had a beginning are still quite high. And, the chances are that if the universe had a beginning, it had a cause. If this is the case, then we must at some point deal with the nature of that cause (aka the First Cause). The question of what caused the cause, or “who designed the Designer” is not an argument against design; we are looking at the issue from inside the universe, and have no option but to work our way outward. If our study of the universe from within using the known laws of the universe leads us to conclude that there was a beginning, and that the beginning had a cause, then that is what we must consider. The next step, then, is to try to find that cause, if possible. Dawkins insists that we must look to a “crane” and not a “sky-hook;” next time we’ll take a look at this to see how it holds up.

3 thoughts on “Dawkins’ central argument, Part 2: restating the problem”

  1. “Whatever has begun to exist has a cause.
    The universe began to exist.
    Therefore, the universe has a cause.”

    Non sequitur.

    Obviously the “universe” is unique as far as we know. The “creation” of the universe represents the beginning of space and time. So the argument that the universe must have a “cause” is not “scientific”.

    “the larger problem of who designed the designer”

    Or “who created the creator”. Or, “where did god come from”? Now you can hypothesize that “god has always existed” and “is outside of space and time”, but there’s no “scientific” evidence for that hypothesis. “Space and time” is all that science has and “outside of space and time” is not scientific.

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