Regarding the roundtable discussion on Nature’s Destiny by Michael Denton (Winter 1999), I take issue with Dembski’s comment: “If one focuses on ‘law,’. . . meaning the actual natural regularities, the designer inevitably fades away into a brute natural process. . . . It is hard to see how Denton’s argument can avoid a similar fate.” I would like to show how to avoid that “similar fate.” With an argument of fine-tuning of the very laws of nature, design is in the laws. The designer will not lose his job as long as the laws themselves are identifiable as designed. Even if the laws of physics were sufficient explanations of the origin of life and the rest of biology, the designer still reigns. Why? Because he started it. If a marionette gets longer strings, he gains no more autonomy from his master. There are only two places to cut God out of the story. The first is at the beginning: if no explanation for the laws of nature is satisfactory (i.e., they arose by chance), then design is not inferred and a designer is unnecessary. The second place is to say there are other strings—either other laws of nature or the initial conditions. Of course, the fine-tuning argument currently includes all known laws of nature and known initial conditions. . . .
Michael Denton’s book supports design in the laws of nature. When we turn to biological examples such as the origin of life, the participants in the roundtable complained that the laws of nature are not enough. Dembski’s comments imply he wants sufficient conditions, not just necessary conditions. Wells follows a similar path. Both seem to go back to an argument made in Hubert Yockey’s Information Theory and Molecular Biology. Yockey argued that since biology is more complex than physics, the origin of life cannot be sufficiently explained by the laws of physics, that is, by regularity. Yockey asks for an explanation that can explain the origin of information: the mark of the origin of life. At this point, a number of questions arise about the task of discovering design. First, the origin of life has complexity built into it. Yockey himself throws out lower bound of 105-106 bits of information. I think this is good because we are headed towards our specification and avoiding fabrication.
On the other hand, complexity is not as easy as it looks. In Mere Creation, David Berlinski provoked an intellectual twitch in me over how satisfactory our concept of complexity is (n.25). Another Berlinski endnote (n.3) also brings up the issue: are information and complexity subject to conservation laws? When Yockey set down the lower bound as a principle, he had in mind Von Neuman self-replicating machines that were described with the ability to increase in complexity. Where does complexity come from? For the origin of life, it is easy to dismiss the mere laws of physics, but is God the only possibility left? Without some sort of conservation law, I am afraid that there may be some future discovery that yields an explanation for origin of information for the origin of life.
Although I largely agree with Michael Denton’s article, “The Inverted Retina,” I would like to point out that the issue of biological optimality vs. non-optimality is independent of the issue of design vs. non-design.
On one hand, one may reject design yet accept optimality. For example, Dawkins commented about Gould’s panda’s “thumb” that “evolution can be more strongly supported by evidence of telling imperfections than by telling perfection” (Blind Watchmaker, p. 91). Yet this organ is now known to be at least less sub-optimal than thought (Endo et al., Nature 397 :309-310), without raising any difficulty for Darwinism.
On the other hand, one may accept design yet reject optimality. For example, many biblical literalists believe biological sub-optimality to be a result of the fall; classical Zoroastrians held it to be due to the involvement of an evil designer as well as a good one; and Plato argued that human fingernails are designed but incomplete (Timaeus 76).
Hence, it is important to separate the two issues.
For those who use the existence of evil to argue that God is not the designer of our wonderfully complex universe, it is enough to show that the reality of evil does not disprove His existence, whether argued deductively or inductively. When asked to make a positive case for the justification of evil in God’s universe, it seems to me better to argue that there probably is a reason for it, even if we don’t know it, than to argue that it is ultimately irrational, as Rikk Watts does in “Design and Evil” (O&D 19:1, Summer 1998). Although I have questions about Plantinga’s freewill defense, I think he’s on the mark when he says:
Suppose that the theist admits he just doesn’t know why God permits evil. What follows from that? Very little of interest. Why suppose that if God does have a good reason for permitting evil, the theist would be the first to know? Perhaps God has a good reason, but that reason is too complicated for us to understand. Or perhaps He has not revealed it for some other reason. The fact that the theist doesn’t know why God permits evil is, perhaps, an interesting fact about the theist, but by itself it shows little or nothing relevant to the rationality of belief in God. (God, Freedom, and Evil, p. 10)
With Watts, I appreciate Henri Blocher’s arguments against those who try to find a neat fit for evil in God’s plan. However, if evil is ultimately irrational and inexplicable, then it is easy to see why the existence of a good and all-powerful God might be doubted.
The fact that we’re given no explanation for evil in Scripture does not mean there isn’t one. That evil plays a positive role in some cases (e.g., that Jesus “learned obedience through suffering”) is enough to bring it back within the boundaries of the explicable, at least as far as its present functional value is concerned.
Finally, Watts’s idea that God uses the irrational to defeat the irrational can be inferred from Blocher’s book, but it is easy to see why such an idea would draw objections such as John Patterson’s. Perhaps Blocher’s own statement on the matter would be less objectionable:
Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The manoeuvre is utterly unprecedented. . . . [God] entraps the deceiver in his own wile. Evil, like a judoist, takes advantage of the power of the good which it perverts; the Lord, like a supreme champion, replies by using the very grip of the opponent (p. 132).
A clause was inadvertently deleted from John Patterson’s letter (Winter 1999). The entire sentence should have read: “According to Watt’s logic, the way to establish the validity of an inherently irrational proposition—such as his proposition that evil truly does coexist with the omnipotent but loving God of Creationism—is to ‘trump’ the irrationality with one or more others that are even more irrational.”
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