Does Intelligence Require Complexity?

As I was browsing through atheist videos last night, I came across a clip of Dr. Richard Dawkins explaining to a “Peaceful Muslim” that belief in evolution is more reasonable than a belief in creation.  Intelligence requires complexity, he explained, and evolution can start with simple things to create complex things.  Creation requires you to start with a very complex thing (the creator) and offers no explanation for the existence of that complexity.  Because evolution can explain the existence of complexity, therefore, evolution is a more satisfying explanation for intelligence than creation.  Now Dr. Dawkins is a brilliant intellectual and his argument is very persuasive, but let us take a closer look.

Honestly, my first impression of this argument is that it is an attempt to turn a liability into an asset.  From my perspective, one of the strongest arguments for the existence of God can be formulated by looking at our experience as human beings and asking the question, could such a set of capabilities arise solely from inanimate matter?  Is it really reasonable to think that intelligent thought, love, choice, joy and all the myriad wonders of human conscious experience could arise from carbon atoms no matter how wondrously and ingeniously they are arranged?  To me, our experience as human beings who have consciousness, explore the universe through science and mathematics, love one another, laugh etc… is an astonishing fact and extremely powerful evidence for the existence of something beyond the material.

In response to this powerful argument for the reality of the immaterial, many atheists have argued that our conscious experience is just delusional.  Atheists like Sam Harris, for example, have argued that science has “torpedoed the notion of free will”.  Others have argued that love is merely an instinct programmed into mammals by evolution.  Claiming that our conscious experience is all one big delusion, however, has not proven very effective at persuading people to renounce religion and so Dr. Dawkins is trying a new approach.  Instead of arguing that our conscious experience is a delusion and doesn’t exist, he is arguing that it requires evolution.  This is a brilliant change of strategy from the leading Darwinist of our age.

My argument against Dr. Dawkins on this point would consist of three parts.  First, I would argue as I have above that the idea that inanimate matter can produce the many wonders of human consciousness is as fantastic an idea as the idea of a self-existent intelligence.  Second, I would argue (as I already have in another post) that whatever is responsible for the existence of the universe around us has already exhibited signs of intelligence whether that makes sense to us or not.  Finally, I would question the essential link between complexity and intelligence (see the extract from my book A Rational Faith below).

A Rational Faith Section 10.24 If God created us, then where did God come from?

Though this argument has been around in many forms for a long time, the most recent form has been popularized by Dr. Richard Dawkins. The basic gist of this modern form of the argument is that a God capable of creating human beings must be at least as complex as human beings and that, therefore, inferring design from the information content of biological organisms is not valid.

The problem with this argument is that it is based on simplistic materialistic reasoning. “To design a brain requires a bigger brain, therefore design cannot be used to explain brains because you must start with an enormously complex brain.” Christians, however, do not believe that the universe we see around us is all that exists. It is true that within our present experience, designing a brain would require a bigger brain but are brains made up of carbon and other atoms the only vehicle of intelligence? Christians believe in a vastly more complex reality than what we can experience through the five senses of taste, smell, touch, sight and hearing. In this vast reality of which we have no knowledge, many things might be possible that wouldn’t make sense to us down here.

As an illustration of the fact that Dr. Dawkin’s argument is based on a simplistic materialistic set of propositions, let us consider a quantum computer. For many problems of practical interest, conventional computers are extremely inefficient. To solve certain factoring problems used in encryption, for example, requires thousands of computers networked together in a gigantic supercomputer that runs fantastically complex software for long periods of time. The problem is enormously difficult given conventional computer technology.

A quantum computer, on the other hand, could theoretically solve these same factoring problems with a vastly simpler set of equipment and logic. Gone and unnecessary are the thousands of networked computers. Gone and unnecessary is the code that divides the problem into large numbers of small chunks and disperses it across the network. All of this complexity is made unnecessary by the capabilities of a quantum computer. Do you see the point? In the comparison between quantum computing and conventional computing we see that the “more computing power requires more complexity” proposition which is the basis for Dr. Dawkins argument completely falls apart. With a quantum computer, you have more computing power in a vastly simpler system. This is not to say that God is a quantum computer or that we are conventional computers, it is merely to illustrate the simplistic assumptions inherent in Dr. Dawkin’s argument.


Wrote another look at this argument “Self Existence vs Intelligence“.


About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
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