Saturday, December 11, 2010
Who designed the designer?
A common objection to the Judaeo-Christian view that God created the universe involves pointing out that if you explain something by appealing to God you have not really explained anything because you would then need to explain God. Richard Dawkins has often written on this topic and his position is essentially this: by explaining an event or an object through reference to God (or, more generally, a designer), the explanation becomes worthless because you have invoked something that itself would need to be explained. The question would then need to be asked, who designed the designer? It would be much better to have a simpler, natural cause that would not require further explanation.
At first this sounds about right; indeed, walking around explaining everything by saying "God did it" would be about the same as not having any explanation at all. But upon closer inspection the argument breaks down completely.
After all, every explanation requires further explanations. Imagine a simple dialogue between a scientist and a curious inquirer:
"Why did that apple fall?"
"Gravity pulled it to the Earth."
"Where did the gravity come from?"
"Gravity is the bending of space-time around objects with mass. It is governed by natural law."
"Where did the natural laws come from?"
This line of questioning could go on and on no matter what answer the scientist gives. Either the scientist would have to explain one answer in terms of another, further, explanation or at some point the scientist would have to argue that one particular, arbitrary answer was somehow final. This illustrates two main problems with Dawkins' argument. First, just because an answer may require further explanation does not mean that the answer is worthless. No one would, after hearing it explained that the Earth's gravity pulled the apple to the ground, exclaim, "you haven't explained anything, because now you have to explain where the Earth came from!"
Second, an infinite regress of causes or explanations, as philosophers have called it, is an age old problem with explanations in general, not just explanations involving God. People of all worldviews have to take something as fundamental and not requiring further explanation. Aristotle had his Unmoved Mover, Christians have God, and some scientists believe the laws of nature to be "brute facts" not requiring explanation (Neil deGrasse Tyson begins a chapter of one his books with: "In the beginning, there was physics.") It is silly to single out one specific explanation with a criticism that applies to all types of explanations.
So what can we learn from this? My suggestion would be for Dawkins to stick to zoology and maybe stop writing publicly in areas that are so clearly outside his expertise.