Self Existence vs Intelligence

Examining “The God Delusion” Part 1

This post is a part of a series I am doing on the Richard Dawkins documentary originally entitled “The Root of All Evil” and later renamed “The God Delusion”.  Though I haven’t seen the documentary, I did see a conversation between Alister Mcgrath and Richard Dawkins which was removed from the documentary for unknown reasons.  In this brief conversation, I assume that I have seen the best arguments and questions that Richard Dawkins uses throughout the documentary.  It would, after all, be somewhat surprising if Dr. Dawkins brought anything less than the best that he had against a fellow Oxford professor with advanced scientific training.

The first argument which Dr. Dawkins used was an argument that I have discussed before concerning the origin of intelligence.  While I have never believed this argument to be particularly powerful, the extent to which Dr. Dawkins used it indicated to me that he considers this argument to be the most powerful argument in the atheist arsenal.  Let us, therefore, reconsider the Dawkins argument.  We begin with a simple formulation of the argument:

  1. Intelligence requires complexity.
  2. Evolution can start with simple things and create complex things.
  3. Intelligent design requires you to start with a creative intelligence that is complex.
  4. Believers in God can offer no explanation for the intelligence and complexity of the creator.
  5. Because evolution can explain the existence of complexity, therefore, evolution is a more satisfying explanation for intelligence than intelligent design.

Seems like a very persuasive argument, but its suffers from a fatal flaw.

And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.  (Exodus 3:14)

In this verse, the God of the Bible makes an absolutely astonishing claim.  With His very name, God claims to be the self-existent basis for all reality.  What makes this claim so astonishing?  Consider that in this single verse a representative of a barely literate people has anticipated the centuries of philosophical thinking and scientific discovery that assures modern thinkers that there was a beginning to all of the materialistic reality and points us to the mystery of existence.  What does this claim have to do with the Dawkins argument above?

The basic flaw in the Dawkins argument is that it presupposes the existence of simple things in order to explain intelligence.  Before anything simple can evolve to become complex and intelligent, it must first exist.  For this reason, the primary mystery is that of existence and the secondary mystery is that of intelligence.  Both atheists and theists must assume the existence of a self-existent reality in order to explain anything at all.  This would seem to result in a stalemate where both atheists and theists must assume away a primary mystery in order to explain anything, but the theistic worldview has some distinct advantages in this contest.

The first advantage that theists have is that all of materialistic reality including space and time appears to have had a beginning at some point in the finite past.  Whatever may exist outside the time and space that we know, it isn’t the matter that we are all comfortable with from our everyday experience and which materialists have historically claimed to be all that exists.  For this reason, any “common sense” notions that we may have about intelligence requiring complexity and matter must simply be considered unreliable.  (For an example of how our simplistic assumptions about complexity might be misleading see the example of quantum computing in the post linked above.)

This second advantage that theists have is far more powerful.  This advantage is that the materialistic reality around us empirically looks as though it was created by some kind of intelligence.  From being governed by mathematical laws to requiring finely-tuned constants of physics to allow life, the “simple” reality we find around us has features that resemble things which have been designed for a purpose.  (see “A Divine Mind” for more on this idea.)  From my own personal experience as a software engineer, I know that I have never made bigger errors than when I ignored evidence that something was happening because I “just knew” that it wasn’t possible.  As any honest person will admit, sometimes reality can surprise us.

I call the final advantage that theists have over atheists in considering the mystery of existence the argument from megalomania.  If there is a self-existent reality and all other reality depends upon that reality for its existence, then that self-existent reality must have at least the potential for intelligence if intelligence exists.  This being the case, an atheist who considers himself to be intelligent must also consider himself, in the face of enormous evidence to the contrary, to be superior to that which is self-existent.  But is it really rational to believe yourself superior to that which you owe your own existence?  What is a human being as compared to that which IS?

What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:4)

As I discussed in my previous attempt to answer this question, I have never considered this argument to be particularly powerful because my intuition leads me in the opposite direction as Dr. Dawkins.  While he finds it very easy to believe that “simple” things can evolve intelligence, I don’t find this belief very easy at all.  Is it really obvious that any arrangement of protons, neutrons and electrons no matter how ingenious could result in a being capable of love, joy, laughter, wonder, choice and intelligence?   While Dr. Dawkins thinks that his intuition regarding complexity and intelligence gives him a “case closed” argument against Christianity, I must agree with the psalmist when he writes of our awesome creator:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;  your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  (Psalm 139:14)

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
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