Groothuis’ "Christian Apologetics" ch.12: The Design Argument

Resuming our discussion of Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics:


“[Dembski’s] method of detecting intelligent causes is already accepted in several areas of science, namely, archaeology, forensic science, intellectual property law, insurance claims investigation, cryptography, random number generation and the search for extra terrestrial intelligence (SETI).  Intelligent design (ID) simply employs these methods of detecting or falsifying design and applies them to the natural sciences as well.” p. 244

Dembski’s design filter: contingency, complexity, specificity:

1.  contingency: not explicable on the basis of natural law (automatic processes-though they can act upon it)

2.  complexity: less probably that it came about by chance

3. specificity:  the first two being the bull’s-eye…are specified before, not after, the arrow is shot.


“…the design inference is not based on ignorance of the natural world but on knowledge about it, especially given recent discoveries in physics (fine-tuning) and biology (the nature of the cell and DNA).  Those who reject all design explanations in principle have committed the logical fallacy of begging the question in favor of naturalism; if so, their naturalistic theories become unfalsifiable and impervious to counter-evidence–traits that are hardly theoretical virtues in the philosophy of science.” p. 247

“Even if we were to write a ‘0’ on each separate proton and on each separate neutron in the entire universe–and we could throw in all the other particles as well for good measure–we would fall short of writing down the figure needed.  [This is] the precision needed to set the universe on its course.” p. 250

Sir Martin Rees’ “six numbers“–via Lemley, quoted from page 251:

1.  The strength of the force that binds atomic nuclei together and determines how all atoms on earth are made.

2.  The strength of the forces that hold atoms together divided by the force of gravity between them.

3.  The density of material in the universe–including galaxies, diffuse gas and dark matter.

4.  The strength of a previously unsuspected force, a kind of cosmic anti-gravity, that controls expansion of the universe.

5.  The amplitude of complex irregularities or ripples in the expanding universe that seed the growth of such structures as planets and galaxies.

6.  The three spatial dimensions in our universe–“Life could not exist if it were two or four,” contends Rees.

“If each of the six numbers Rees has identified were dependent on the others–in the same sense that, say, the number of arms and fingers in a family depends on the number of family members–the fact that they allow for the existence of life would seem less of a shock.  ‘At the moment, however, says Rees, ‘we cannot predict any of them from the value of the others.’  So unless theoreticians discover some unifying theory, each number compounds the unlikeliness of each of the other numbers.'” p. 251 (but see more-fundamental-law objection below)

Regarding the expansion rate of the universe:  “…the likelihood of this constant occurring by chance is that of randomly hurling a dart from outer space and hitting a bull’s-eye on earth that is less than the size of one atom.” p. 253

Fine-tuning data is the result of either 1) design, 2) chance, 3) natural law/necessity, or 4) combo of 2 and 3.  Question:  Why not some combo of 1, 2, and/or 3?

Regarding the Weak Anthropic Principle (or “the truism objection”)–I will phrase it this way:  Sure, there is fine-tuning, but no God is needed to explain it, because if the natural laws necessary for our existence had not manifested, we would not be here to observe anything.  We are, so they did.  No God needed.

The problem with that, is it does not explain the fine-tuning or provide an explanation for the overwhelming improbability of the appearance of necessary conditions.

Inscrutable odds objection:  can only calculate probabilities for things in the world, not the world as a whole.  Wrong, because 1) there are far more possible human-life-prohibiting universes than possible human-life-friendly universes, 2) the uniqueness of our universe doesn’t rule out the consideration of probabilities, 3) we rationally consider probabilities for singular events in other situations.

Not chance, so mulitiverse:  The thing I am impressed with in this chapter is that most honest scientists don’t deny fine-tuning or try to argue it just happened by chance–hence, the multiverse theory (which is not merely a theory meant to deal with the improbability of fine-tuning, but is a theory some invoke for that purpose–because the more chances/universes you have, the greater your odds).   But… “…in order to ‘abolish one unobservable God,’ various multiverse theories require ‘an infinite number of unobservable substitutes.'” p. 261 –see earlier chapter on the problem of an actual infinite.  Multiverse theory 1) appears to be flagrantly ad hoc, 2) lacks experimental evidence, 3) is exceedingly complex.

The more-fundamental-law objection says such a law would explain everything and a Designer would not be required. However, such a “superlaw” could have been otherwise, is not logically necessary, would itself be highly improbable and specified for life to exist, and so would not explain away the design hypothesis.

Pantheism fails to explain design, because 1) the knower is not the known, 2) the universe is not a necessary being, 3) designing is done by a person, and 4) no rational argument can explain the presumably ineffable.

In sum:  The universe is not logically necessary and requires an explanation of its origins.  Further, the “six numbers” are either the result of 1) chance, 2) necessity, 3) combo of first two, or 4) design.  The probability of the first three is way, way, way, way, waaaaaaaaaaaay, way too low.  Therefore, 4.  Therefore, there is a Designer.

Questions for Dr. Groothuis, sent via email:

1.  Is that bone field on 261 a reference to the Higgs field?  Is the recent Higgs Boson discovery a step towards a unified theory for the “six numbers”?  Will it result in a rewrite of this chapter?

2.  On page 251 you say a unifying theory would make the life-friendliness of the “six numbers” less of a shock.  But of the more-fundamental-law objection, you say, on 263, the superlaw would still be improbable and specified for life.  Are you talking about two different things?

For those curious about the Higgs discovery, here is a great article from John Lennox in the Christian Post:  http://global.christianpost.com/news/the-god-particle-not-the-god-of-the-gaps-but-the-whole-show-80307


Update 8/28:  Had apologetics meeting last night, and have 2 more questions:

3.  Isn’t the arrow already shot, so that the fine-tuning is drawing the bull’s eye after the fact?  I know that must be wrong, because scientists don’t deny fine-tuning, but…?

4.  Is this argument saying the same thing as the anthropic principle (which uses the language “necessary” instead of “impossible”)–If it were naturally impossible that we be here, we wouldn’t be.  We’re here, therefore it is naturally possible.  Therefore, no supernatural explanation is needed.

Will email the new two questions to Dr. Groothuis, but I’m pretty sure he’s too busy to give a complete answer.  So–anyone reading this, who knows their stuff–please reply.

(discussion index)

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About Maryann

Maryann Spikes is the past President of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. She blogs at Ichthus77, and loves apologetics and philosophy. In particular she loves to study all things Euthyphro Dilemma and Golden Rule. A para-educator (autism) for five years, she holds a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, an AA in Humanities via Modesto Junior College, and moonlights as a freelancer. You can follow her on Twitter @Ichthus77, connect with the Ichthus77 community on Facebook, or look her up on Google+.
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