Ultimate 747 gambit

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Let the unexplained phenomenon be denoted by P; the explanation of P be denoted by A. Let false propositions be F and "equivalent to" be ~=.
Let the unexplained phenomenon be denoted by P; the explanation of P be denoted by A. Let false propositions be F and "equivalent to" be ~=.
{A->P}, in this case represents design.
{P->A}; in this case, this conditional represents design.
The gambit states:
The gambit states:
F{A->P} if {A~=P}.
F{P->A} if {A~=P}.

Revision as of 15:37, 8 May 2010

The Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit is an argument for the improbability of the existence of God. It is a counter-argument to the teleological arguments advanced by numerous apologetics. The argument from design claims that a complex or ordered structure must be designed. However, a god that is responsible for the creation of a universe would be at least as complicated as the universe that it creates. Therefore, it too must require a designer. And its designer would require a designer also, ad infinitum. The argument for the existence of god is then a logical fallacy with or without the use of special pleading. The Ultimate 747 gambit points out that God does not provide an origin of complexity, it simply assumes that complexity always existed. It also states that design fails to account for complexity, which natural selection can explain.


The argument

  1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
  2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. In the case of a man-made artefact such as a watch, the designer really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person.
  3. The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable. We need a "crane" not a "skyhook," for only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.
  4. The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that – an illusion.
  5. We don't yet have an equivalent crane for physics. Some kind of multiverse theory could in principle do for physics the same explanatory work as Darwinism does for biology. This kind of explanation is superficially less satisfying than the biological version of Darwinism, because it makes heavier demands on luck. But the anthropic principle entitles us to postulate far more luck than our limited human intuition is comfortable with.
  6. We should not give up hope of a better crane arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology. But even in the absence of a strongly satisfying crane to match the biological one, the relatively weak cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic principle, self-evidently better than the self-defeating skyhook hypothesis of an intelligent designer.

Apologetic Counter-Arguments

The conclusion does not follow from the premises

"At most, all that follows is that we should not infer God's existence on the basis of the appearance of design in the universe. But that conclusion is quite compatible with God's existence and even with our justifiably believing in God's existence. Maybe we should believe in God on the basis of the cosmological argument or the ontological argument or the moral argument. Maybe our belief in God isn't based on arguments at all but is grounded in religious experience or in divine revelation. Maybe God wants us to believe in Him simply by faith. The point is that rejecting design arguments for God's existence does nothing to prove that God does not exist or even that belief in God is unjustified. Indeed, many Christian theologians have rejected arguments for the existence of God without thereby committing themselves to atheism." – William Lane Craig

Response: The appearance of design requires an explanation but invoking a more complex being is simply a tactic employed to hide the problem. An ultimately complex God is, by the design argument, ultimately improbable. If the theist holds the design argument's premise then the ultimate 747 gambit would disprove his existence. To avoid this problem, the design argument must be rejected. God would be a somewhat adequate explanation if he evolved from simplicity.

Argument from Evolution against God (god cannot evolve):

Attribution to StrongAtheism.net [1]

There is a popular belief that science can never prove or disprove the existence of a god, because science only concerns itself with the material. Of course, this has not stopped many Christians, even theologians, from boasting that science makes theism credible.

Both arguments are very weak. If a god does exist, this fact must have some implication for the nature of the universe. After all, this immaterial intelligence is said to have created the entire universe! If that was the case, we should expect, for instance, to observe that time and space pertain to different things. After all, a Creator of all can hardly exist in space, and yet must act in time. But we know from physics that this is not the case. Christian Creationism suffers from another problem: we do not observe lifeforms popping out of nothing, and yet this is what they claim happened for all “kinds”, including man.

The argument I will discuss here is similar to the latter, in that it mounts an inductive argument based on evolution. It is not, however, an argument against Creationism but against the notion of an intelligent, uncaused (and therefore non-evolved) being. The fact is that we do observe uncaused things, but they are all quantum events. We have never observed something macroscopic, let alone something as complex as an intelligence, pop out of nothing.

Yet this is what we are to believe about a “god”: that an infinitely powerful intelligence popped out of nothing, uncaused. Given the infinite improbability of such an event, we have to regard is as an absurd fable at best. If we accept the scientific fact that evolution is the only means to obtain intelligence, then the existence of a god is impossible.

Of course, the Christian might reply that his god did not pop out of nothing, but always was. This may very well be the case – but if that is his position, then he also has to accept the strong-atheistic position, that the universe always was, as being even more credible given the complexities involved. But more importantly, the strong-atheistic position does not involve intelligence being uncaused, but rather intelligence arising from evolution. This is a luxury that the theist cannot afford.

The Argument from Evolution, formalized by Kyle J. Gerkin in his article ‘A Counterclockwise Paley’, consists of the following syllogism:

1.Organized complexity is the product of conscious design or natural selection.

2.Intelligence is an example of organized complexity.

3.Thus, intelligence is the product of conscious design or natural selection.

4.Intelligent beings are capable of designing intelligence (i.e. computer artificial intelligence programmed by humans).

5.However, only one mechanism has been discovered that can produce intelligence without requiring the existence of a prior intelligence. That mechanism is evolution through natural selection.

6.Thus, the first intelligence evolved.

7.Evolution requires:

a.Self replication (heredity) with slightly imperfect copying fidelity (mutation).

b.An environment that can favor one replicator over another (competition).

c.Time for (a) and (b) to manifest themselves.

8.None of the conditions in (7) were present before the existence of the universe.

9.Thus, intelligence did not exist prior to the universe.

10.Therefore, the universe did not have an intelligent creator.

Most of these premises are rather uncontroversial, at least to most rational people. It is fairly obvious that we have not observed any other means to produce organized complexity, and the strong-atheistic position does not contravene to (1) since the initial state of the universe was not complex, at least as we know it so far.

A hypothetical question can be raised against (5) and (8) – could not another mechanism be found to account for organized complexity or intelligence specifically? Gerkin himself answers this question in two parts. First, any mechanism that we would find in the future would have to be natural, and therefore could not exist before the universe. Secondly, even if we posit that some mechanism can exist in the “supernatural realm”, this mechanism and that realm would itself require a Creator. The only viable solution for the theist is to claim that intelligence can pop out of nothing, which goes against our scientific knowledge.

An objection has been raised in that line by William Kesatie in ‘Trimming the Wrong Hedge’. Keasatie argues that the argument only applies to material entities, because God was uncaused. This is a lame objection, and he must be aware of that: whatever position one has, one has to uphold an uncaused entity, material or not. In this view, Kesatie only highlights the absurdity of the theistic position in assuming the existence of an uncaused intelligence.

Basically, the Argument from Evolution demands that the theist accounts for the intelligence of this god. In this he is caught in a Catch-22. If he claims that intelligence is a very mundane thing to exist, then the existence of the universe and material intelligence is a much more mundane thing. If he claims that intelligence requires design, then he cannot claim that his god is intelligent.

The only possibility left at this point would be to take an impersonal view of “god” – that it is simply a principle or law. But this escape drains all meaning to our worship and reverence of “god”, and reduces it to a natural phenomena and some bastard form of pantheism.

Gerkin’s argument does something that few atheological arguments have ever done, putting into question the intelligence of the god-concept, and using a purely scientific argument that is so simple as to be available to the common reader. This is a very powerful argument that I think deserves to be known and used.

In emailing Gerkin, he has told me that another objection has been used against his argument – the idea that the Argument from Evolution does not apply to divine intelligence because it is simple. Now, it is unclear how we can make sense of any such statement as applied to a supernatural “thing”.We cannot say anything about a “supernatural intelligence” unless we know what it means.

Let’s go a little further and assume that “supernatural intelligence” is coherent. In this case, what evidence can we rely on? Inductive arguments point to the direction of infinite complexity. Indeed, all non-designed intelligences around us become more complex as they are more flexible and powerful. The sole conclusion we can draw is that the intelligence of a god must be extremely, or infinitely, complex.

Explanations of Explanations

A complete explanation of an God is not required in order to recognise God's existence as a valid explanation of the evidence. Dawkins demands an explanation for God (3) - in other words an explanation for the explanation. If we required explanations of explanations, we'd end up in an infinite regress and we could never explain anything. Science and history in particular would be taken as invalid, because we recognise that there are always open questions.

"If archaeologists digging in the earth were to discover things looking like arrowheads and hatchet heads and pottery shards, they would be justified in inferring that these artifacts are not the chance result of sedimentation and metamorphosis, but products of some unknown group of people, even though they had no explanation of who these people were or where they came from. Similarly, if astronauts were to come upon a pile of machinery on the back side of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that it was the product of intelligent, extra-terrestrial agents, even if they had no idea whatsoever who these extra-terrestrial agents were or how they got there. In order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn't be able to explain the explanation." – William Lane Craig


Craig misses the point. Dawkins' objection is not about a missing "explanation of an explanation"; it is about the explanatory power of the design explanation. The argument from design iterates and therefore preserves the problem: why are there complex things? The designer has intelligence, intentions, and the incredible ability to create universes. He does complex things intentionally and is therefore himself a complex thing since his thoughts have to be at least as complex as his designs. Ergo, he is in need of the explanation he was supposed to provide in the first place. In fact, the designer explanation solves nothing at all and it actually worsens it by raising additional problems. Craig assigns God the property of timelessness but this is mere wordplay; God is supposedly involved in human temporal concepts: he decides, he intends, he designs, he constructs. Intention and design are human concepts dependent on a temporal framework which cannot be applied to a timeless being. In the end, the design argument boils down to the God of the gaps: We don't know enough therefore God did it with magic! See: turtles all the way down

Craig's straw-man arguments must be illustrated more properly. He makes the obvious 'dodge' from the gambit by ignoring its salient statement that 'we cannot explain a mystery with the same mystery'.

Let the unexplained phenomenon be denoted by P; the explanation of P be denoted by A. Let false propositions be F and "equivalent to" be ~=.

{P->A}; in this case, this conditional represents design.

The gambit states:

F{P->A} if {A~=P}.

The design argument states:

1) Whatever is complex/ perfectly ordered requires a designer.

2) The universe is complex/ perfectly ordered.

3) Hence, The universe is designed.

Ultimate 747 Gambit states:

1) Whatever is complex/ perfectly ordered requires a designer.

2) God's mind is complex/perfcetly ordered and organized.

3) Hence, God is designed.

Regarding Craig's counter-examples:

Archaelogy: Craig makes the same mistake as Paley; if fish fossils were found, no one would argue human design. We know that arrowheads are product of human design because of our observational experience and former knowledge, however we don't have another universe to compare with our one in order to notice design.

Dawkins also responds: The theologians, he writes, demanded that there must be a first cause, which can be given the name God. Dawkins responds that it must have been a simple cause, and he contends that God is not an appropriate name for it, unless God is divested of its normal associations. Dawkins wants the first cause to be a "self-bootstrapping crane" that slowly lifts the world to its current complexity. He says that he doesn't require a narrowly scientific explanation, but what any honest theory that accounts for the complex phenomena of the natural world requires is a crane and not a skyhook.

God is simple

"According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like. Some of the discussions of divine simplicity get pretty complicated, not to say arcane. (It isn't only Catholic theology that declares God simple; according to the Belgic Confession, a splendid expression of Reformed Christianity, God is "a single and simple spiritual being.") So first, according to classical theology, God is simple, not complex "– Plantinga

Response: Dawkins writes that he didn't get the impression that those employing this "evasive" defence were being "wilfully dishonest," but were "defining themselves into an epistemological Safe Zone where rational argument could not reach them because they had declared by fiat that it could not."

"More remarkable, perhaps, is that according to Dawkins' own definition of complexity, God is not complex. According to his definition (set out in The Blind Watchmaker), something is complex if it has parts that are "arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone." But of course God is a spirit, not a material object at all, and hence has no parts. A fortiori (as philosophers like to say) God doesn't have parts arranged in ways unlikely to have arisen by chance. Therefore, given the definition of complexity Dawkins himself proposes, God is not complex. " – Plantinga

Response: Dawkin's definition of complexity can be applied to God's intelligence. God is the set of the most complex ideas that are arranged in the most organized way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone. Plantinga is also explaining away Dawkin's definition in biological and physical terms. It is also known in biology that there is a meaningful correlation between structure and function. A being with no structure has no function. It is important to note that there are two kinds of complexity: physical and functional. It can be granted that God is nonphysical. However, functional complexity is measured by the level of intelligence/conciousness and abilities. An omnipotent and omniscient being is thus ultimately functionally complex. Thinking, rationality, consciousness, and volition are complex processes that could not, by any means, arise by chance. The brain is a simple structure but its function is extraordinarily complex.

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