Ultimate 747 gambit

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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

  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

1) 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 ( although evolution never reaches perfection). This would not be accepted by most theologians.


2) 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

Response: Why do we need God as an explanation of the processes in the natural world? William Lane Craig holds that the Big Bang and evolution require an explanation themselves although they are explanations of the origins of the universe and complexity of life. The question is: how does complexity arise? The theist would answer: We should invoke a more complex being. For that explanation to hold, it must be coherent and its complexity must be self-explanatory, otherwise it doesn't solve the problem. We could ask: how does our heavy planet stay 'afloat'? We cannot answer: A heavier being holds it (without supporting an explanation that would make it meaningful). That's being evasive, handling God as being immune to explanation. With the absence of a logical explanation, the heavier being begs the question of who holds this heavier being, leading to an absurd infinite regress. This is the real detriment to science, accepting hypotheses without justifying them. Craig's examples are false since human intelligence and complexity are products of evolution from simpler species.

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.


3) 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: This is a fallacy; reformulated, it would sound as follows: 'God is simple because my faith said so'. It does not matter what theologians hold without proof. 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 aphysical although this hasn't been supported by proof. 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. Plantinga also objects that this is invocation of materialism. However, there is no such thing as supernaturalistic science and God's intelligence remains unexplained in terms humans are familiar with. The God hypothesis falls to Occam's razor.

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