Faith 02 – Complexity: Watches, Snowflakes, and the Finely-Tuned Universe
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Say one afternoon you decide to take a walk through a forest when something catches your eye. Upon further investigation you discover a beautiful pocket watch hiding among the leaves. Would you believe a watch that displays such timely precision to have resulted from natural forces, produced by the forest itself? Or would you be inclined to believe the intricate mechanisms and gears of the watch were designed by an intelligent watchmaker?
Of course, we know that watches do not naturally grow in forests and thus the watch must have been produced by the labors of an intelligent designer. By this reasoning we can conclude the complexity of the Universe and the design of all living organisms are not the products of natural forces, and thus also require the influence of an intelligent designer. But does the natural occurrence of complexity and the appearance of design truly necessitate the existence of a higher intelligence?
For a moment, lets examine the structure of a snowflake. As we can see, there is great beauty and symmetry in its design. Someone without a working knowledge of how snowflakes naturally form in the upper atmosphere would be tempted to cite this example as evidence of an intelligent, creative force. However, it is doubtful anyone would accept the challenge to provide definitive evidence that each individual snowflake is specifically crafted by an intelligent “snowflake-maker” to display the unique characteristics that set it apart from every other snowflake that has ever existed in the history of the Universe.
Therefore, complex designs can be created through natural processes that do not require the direct involvement of an intelligent designer. Yet, some might be quick to point out even though we can observe many complex patterns in nature, our pocket watch not only has the appearance of design but a clear function as well. But what is it about our watch that lends itself to the intrinsic property of “being functional”? A watch necessitates a watchmaker because there is clear intent within the watch’s design. Anyone can objectively determine, without being influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions, that pocket watches are created for the intended purpose of telling time.
Theists often claim the evidence for an intelligent designer is the fine-tuning of the Universe that appears to perfectly sustain life. For example, without water, life on Earth would cease to exist; therefore, water is important for the continued existence of life. However, this begs the question: Where is the importance of water truly derived? Does water’s importance come from the intrinsic properties of the molecule itself? Or is the importance of water a result of the value humans place on it?
To examine this question, imagine a hypothetical scenario where no life exists anywhere in the Universe. On the scale from one to ten how would you characterize the value of water? It is difficult to provide an accurate answer to this question because the word “value” requires a subject in order to have a qualitative meaning. That is, if no one exists to place value on water, then water appears to have no value.
This would be called a “subjective value” — meaning its importance is contingent upon, or influenced by, the personal feelings, tastes, or opinions belonging to a particular “subject”. Although we can objectively examine water’s chemical structure, physical states, and the various ways it interacts with organic and inorganic matter, none of these properties actually tells us anything about water’s intended purpose.
Therefore, one cannot look at water, as one does a pocket watch, and objectively determine, without influence from personal feelings, tastes, or opinions, that water is specifically designed for any one particular reason. We know that a watch requires a watchmaker because we, as human beings, are so familiar with the functions of man-made objects that it’s nearly impossible to detach ourselves from the well-known intent behind these objects’ design.
Yet, when it comes to objects that have not been produced through the labors of human beings, how can anyone confidently claim to know their intended purpose? Although you might find snowflakes to be incredibly beautiful and intricately designed, can you definitively say what is a snowflake’s true function as it pertains to the complexity of its design? Of course not, because there isn’t a way to know, nor can you call up a snowflake-maker, as one would a watch-maker, and ask him.
The same holds true for water. Even though it can be hardly considered complex, consisting of just 3 atoms, human beings place a great deal of personal value on this molecule for our continued survival, despite not knowing the true intent behind its design. We must realize, the subjective value we place on object “X” is not the same thing as the objective intent of “X”.
Just like a our pocket watch might hold sentimental value because it was handed down through generations of family, or aesthetic value because we find its design beautiful, the personal values we place on our pocket watch provides absolutely no insight into who is the manufacturer or that it was designed with the intent of telling time.
Likewise, the personal values we give the fine-tuning of the Universe can tell us nothing about whether the Universe was designed, who or what it was designed by, or if the Universe was specifically created for an intended purpose, such as a place that can sustain human life. The fact that we find ourselves in an universe, living on an inhabitable planet, is not really that surprising if you think about it, because if life can only exist in a location that sustains it, then that’s exactly where life will find itself.
But as far as we know, life only exists in our particular solar system, among the billions of stars in the Milky Way, among the billions of galaxies in the Universe. To many followers of religion the idea of being alone in the Universe makes human life very unique and special. Indeed, many believe we are so special it boarders on narcissism — for the idea that human beings are the center of the Universe has only been dispelled through the labors of scientific investigation over the last several hundred years, beginning with the observations of the earliest astronomers.
But if human beings are truly alone, then the Universe does not appear to be so “finely-tuned for life” as many theists would like to believe. However, we have only explored a small faction of the Universe in the search for inhabitable solar systems and already the Kepler space telescope is starting to reveal planets orbiting in the “goldilocks zone” around their stars, which is the inhabitable region where water can remain liquid on the planet surface and thus has the potential to harbor life. So perhaps someday we might make contact with beings from other worlds. But whether or not we discover alien life, the very concept of a finely-tuned Universe reflects very poorly on the views of theists and the belief in an intelligent designer.
Meaning, if human beings are indeed alone in the Universe and no other life exists, then certainly, the freezing depths of space that contains trillions upon trillions of stars, around which orbit hostile planets that boil, freeze, or spew toxic chemicals into their caustic atmospheres, are by no means considered “finely-tuned for life”. On the other hand, if there are alien worlds that harbor life, including anything from microorganisms to sentient beings, then the Universe can be considered finely-tuned. But this scenario raises a series of difficult questions, for did the God of monotheism create this life, and if so, does each planet have its own creation story, its own failures to live up to God’s expectations, and its own version of Abraham, Muhammad, and Jesus Christ?
The best we can currently say is that human beings just happen to live in a Universe that is able to sustain life. However, the observation that “The Universe is valuable to humans because it sustains life” is not equivalent to saying “The Universe exists for the intended purpose of sustaining our lives.” Although followers of religion might claim “something cannot come from nothing”, and thus our reality must be the product of God, the mere fact we observe complexity and the Universe appears to be finely-tuned does not answer any of the critical questions religions face.
For example, it is impossible to examine reality and provide an answer to the question of “How many gods exist?” Is there only one god, five gods, hundreds of gods, or perhaps zero gods? How can anyone answer this question with 100% accuracy solely based on evidence gathered from our surroundings? But considering there is a God, the Universe cannot tell us anything about who this deity is and what it ultimately wants, nor does it reveal any of the supernatural properties of God that are proclaimed by various faiths.
For example, the monotheistic religions claim God is both omniscient AND omnipotent. However, nothing about our reality can support this belief and simple logic suggests these characteristics could not be displayed in a solitary being. If God is omniscient then he would know all of his future actions. This means he would be tied to his own fate, unable to change his destiny, because everything he does would be predestined. Therefore, if God cannot change his own fate, then he is not omnipotent, for he lacks the power to control his future actions. If a God exists, he can only be all-knowing or all-powerful, he cannot be both. These are the logical inconsistencies that arise when claims aren’t based on evidence, but mere speculation.
Not only is the Universe incapable of providing information about the characteristics of God, or even the number of gods that exist, it is equally limited in its capacity to display God’s intentions with respect to our existence. Meaning, although it is POSSIBLE there could be some sort of intelligence that created the Universe and started life, such a “possibility” reveals nothing about whether God even CARES we exist. For all we know, human life could be the inconsequential byproduct of a much grander plan, and the creative force behind the Universe neither knows nor cares about our lives, our wants, or our desires.
Because it is impossible to gain any knowledge about God and the purpose of our existence by exploring the nature of the Universe, the followers of ALL the world’s religions, long before the invention of the written word and the existence of holy scripture, were required to look inward in their attempt to seek God, exploring their own thoughts, desires, and most importantly, their emotions.