There is perhaps no more famous atheist than Richard Dawkins. The evolutionary biologist has spent many years of his life pushing back against religious ideas. One of his better-known books, however, finds a sort of common ground between Christians and atheists. His book, The Blind Watchmaker (1986), describes how precisely fine-tuned our planet is for life. However, he refers to this as an illusion. It is only the appearance of design, and he spends most of the book explaining why it is only an appearance. Let’s stop there for a moment and consider the implications. The appearance of design begs many questions regarding our universe, planet, and God’s existence.
Common Ground: Precise Fine Tuning
Let’s start with where Christians and atheists can agree. It is pretty incredible that life exists, period. The odds of this happening purely by chance are ridiculously slim. The information coded into our DNA, information required for our lives to be possible, is ridiculously complex. Even the most simple celled organism is more complicated than most of our modern technology.
Zoom out to our planet. From the amount of water and oxygen in our planet’s atmosphere to the distance from the sun, we appear to be perfectly balancing on a knife’s edge. Move a tiny bit in either direction on any of these issues, and our planet could not support life as we know it. They say we are in the “Goldilocks Zone” for a reason.
Zoom even further out and consider the universe itself. Our universe is expanding. However, it is expanding at a particular rate that is essential for life to exist. If it expanded slightly faster or slower, life would be impossible in our universe. This is just one of about 30 fundamental forces in our universe that demonstrate the appearance of design.
What Does That Information Tell Us About Design?
Most of that information is not controversial. Christians and skeptics alike can observe the data and conclude that our existence is incredible. Where we differ is in what conclusion do we draw from this information. Do we take Dawkins’ approach and figure that there are too many complications and flaws with that precision to be considered designed?
Dawkins Has More Ground to Cover
We must be fair to Dawkins. His view is that despite the complexity in biology, natural selection provides an adequate method to obtain that complexity. His point was only about evolutionary biology, not physics, cosmology, geology, etc. In one sense, I do not want to stretch his claims into subjects that he did not intend. However, this also demonstrates that he has a lot more work to do. Say for a moment that he is right, and Dawkins can naturalistically explain all biological complexity. Before he declares God as unnecessary, he still must answer how that first life came into existence and why our planet and universe make that possible.
Explaining a theory of how human eyes could have developed through evolution gets us no closer to understanding how the first evolving cells came into being. Perhaps Dawkins might respond, as he famously said before, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” If we can explain the eye now, we will be able to explain how the first cell came about one day. Just give it time, right? Christians do not support intelligent design because we don’t have an explanation. We support design because there is positive evidence for a designer. That appearance of design in all areas of our existence begs too many questions to be ignored.
What Best Explains the Appearance of Design?
Something that always helps me grasp big scientific or philosophical issues like this is to break down what all the options are. Generally speaking, there are only three possible explanations for this appearance of design.
1. Chance: The notion that all of this is here purely by random chance. Yeah, it may be unlikely, but we’re here. Though this is a commonly held view, the more evidence we find, the more indefensible it becomes. The conditions we are in are so unlikely that believing it happened by chance is far more irrational than appealing to God.
2. Physical Necessity: Maybe it’s not purely random, though. Maybe this is how it had to be. Could a larger force like gravity have determined how our universe formed, in a sense rigging the game? Though possible, this view needs evidence to be supported. At the moment, that evidence is sorely lacking.
3. Design: Of course, it is still possible that the appearance of design is not an illusion. Observing problems we see in design today doesn’t disprove God any more than a cracked iPhone disproves Steve Jobs. Skeptics need to contend with how that design came about in the first place. A blind watchmaker is still a watchmaker.
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