New CSICOP Column

My new essay for CISCOP’s Creation and ID Watch site is now up. This time: Who Designed the Designer? There’s a reason it’s a classic!


  1. #1 Duncan
    November 4, 2006


    One thing you do not address here is the concept of divine simplicity. I think Johnson is quite into this, but Jay W. Richards argues it anyway.

    Divine simplicity is counter-intuitive and probably contradicts other theological points. I’m sure it has also been argued over by theologians. But IMVHO your (well written) article is clearly a scientist’s piece not a philosopher’s or theologian’s, and is a little incomplete in that sense.

    That is constructive criticism but I would like to see someone have a go at divine simplicity.

  2. #2 J. J. Ramsey
    November 4, 2006

    There are a couple problems with the “Who designed the designer?” argument.

    First, it does not work against someone who is arguing that the complexity of biological organisms cannot be explained by known biological causes, and so something outside the loop must be brought in. God is not supposed to biological in the first place, so his/its complexity is outside the scope of the argument. Of course, the obvious point of attack is to show that the premise that complexity of biological organisms cannot be explained by known biological causes is false.

    Second, statements like “Any designer capable of producing such complexity would have to be at least as complex as his production” are ill-formed. Complexity is not defined well enough to compare the complexities of two very different things. One cannot, for example, reasonably compare the complexity of a cat to the complexity of Moby Dick. Any working definition of complexity adopted would be so artificial that the comparison would be skewed by the choice of definition.

    I suspect that in practice, when someone is saying that God must be as complex as what he designs, what one is usually really saying is this: There is a positive correlation between the complexity of known designers and the complexity of what they design. God is presumed to be a designer, and since what he has supposedly designed is so vastly more complex than that of what any other designer has designed, this supposed God must be vastly more complex than the other designers.

    If that is the case, then the comparision is not really between the complexity of God and the complexity of what he has presumably designed, but between the complexity of God and the complexity of other designers. Of course, that comparison only makes sense if God is sufficiently like the other designers that his complexity can be compared to that of those other designers.

    Taner Edis made some good points about the “Who designed the designer” argument:

    I also remain dubious (though less so compared to before I read the book) about Dawkins’s main argument against intelligent design. He says that design is never a good explanation of complexity, since it invites the question of who designed the designer, and the designer must then be even more complex than its creation. There is a good point here, which Dawkins captures brilliantly in his description of how Darwinian evolution raises consciousness about issues concerning possible design….

    Still, I think Dawkins tries to make his argument do too much work, almost turning it into a silver-bullet argument against God, a sort of metaphysical disproof. I think that’s way too strong. I don’t see much that is inherently unacceptable in tracing complexity back to an intelligent, perhaps more complex source. Especially since theistic views (involving either ID or more liberal ID-lite) almost always involve some dualism about minds, their explanations of complexity naturally have a top-down nature that seems to me to make good sense within that context. It just happens that at present, design explanations are a complete failure in biology, and indeed in natural science as a whole. Design does not work, but this is different from saying that it is inherently unworkable.

    In other words, I agree that the gross failure of design ideas is a significant reason to doubt there is a God. But this is a failure to describe the world as we find it–not some inherent logical defect in design-based explanations.

  3. #3 Jason Rosenhouse
    November 4, 2006

    J.J. Ramsey-

    Thank you for the interesting comment.

    As I said in my essay, the Who Designed the Designer argument, at least as I presented it, is not meant to provide a logical disproof of God’s existence. I don’t think Dawkins intends it that way either. Rather, the point is that in order to avoid an infinite regress of designers you must hypothesize one particular designer with attributes that are utterly impossible based on everything we know about intelligent agents and the things they design. There is no logical difficulty with doing that. But it does suggest that the argument from design, in which one passes from the observation that a watch needs a watchmaker to the conclusion that the universe needs a designer as well, is not some simple extrapolation based on the actions of known desigenrs. Instead it is a matter of inventing something fundamentally new and incomprehensible based on anything we have experience with. The argument from design was supposed to be a simple proof of God’s existence based on an analogy that anyone could understand. That is precisely how ID proponents present it today. In reality it is an explanation that creates far greater mysteries than it resolves.

    In most contexts such an explanation would immedately be recognized as ridiculous special pleading.

    As I also mentioned in the essay, it is possible to imagine scenarios where we would be driven to the conclusion of cosmic design despite all of the conceptual difficulties it raises. But before going such a route, we had better be certain there is no alternative.

  4. #4 JY
    November 7, 2006


    FYI the tagline at the end of the CSICOP column still hyperlinks to your old blog…

  5. #5 AJS
    November 8, 2006

    If a designer cannot design a system which is more complex than themself, it means that there must be an infinite regression of increasingly more complex designers. That is not even a circular argument but a spiral, heading away from common sense with every turn. The only way that regression could break (and there is evidence that it has been broken: the universe itself!) is for a designer to be able to design a system more complex than themself.

    In the absolute limiting case, that means that it must be possible for a designer with some degree of intelligence to arise spontaneously, through processes proceeding without intelligence.

    Or ….. what’s to stop you from skipping the designer(s) altogether, and having a whole universe with apparent “designed features” arise spontaneously, through processes proceeding without intelligence?

    That’s the big problem with the Argument from Design: in order to accept the evidence, you have to accept the possibility that there could be no designer at all. What’s worse, every intermediate step you introduce between something arising spontaneously and the universe only makes that sequence of events less probable.

    P(universe arose spontaneously) is very small; but still > P(God arose spontaneously and created universe) which > P(pre-God arose spontaneously and created God who created universe) ….. and so on.

  6. #6 Bill Burke
    November 15, 2006

    On the supposed need to deal with the infinite regress of designers:

    First, I question whether this regress is axiomatically ridiculous. Since there seem to exist equally bizarre things within the realm of science, including for example Why does matter exist? Some proof might well be in order here.

    Second, why should there be an onus on the ID people to explain the implied regress? If an intelligent design were in fact inferrable from a set of facts, why wouldn’t that be enough to settle the immediate issue they address? Proof, please?

    Third, I doubt that explanation of a mystery by invoking an even greater mystery is necessarily self-refuting. And I would suggest that there are many advances within science whose hallmarks have been raising the issues of those greater mysteries. Here again, some proof would seem to be greatly welcomed.