March 15, 2016

Dear Christians: Answers to Questions for Atheists, Part X

Since it's my first day back, I'm going to bunt this one and answer just the Design & Order question. Originally, I'd intended to do this with another segment, since there's only the one question, but hey, I need a gimme! :-P


1.    If there is no God, how do you explain the high degree of design and order in the Universe?

This is an interesting question. On the one hand, there's the assumption of design and order, and that's really a presumption. That there are ordered parts of the universe simply does not necessitate design. We have many models, observations, experiments and other data that indicate that the laws of physics that we are already aware of explain much of how the universe functions. There's simply no need for a supernatural addition.

Then there's the idea of there being high amounts of order in the universe. Typically, we'll encounter this idea voiced as a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Indeed, I was taught that the Second Law of Thermodynamics actually disproved evolution when I was in a creationist school for seventh and eight grade.

Essentially, the second law states that entropy increases or stays the same within a closed system. This accounts for the transfers of matter and energy between states in a closed system--as they transfer into different states, some of the substance is lost or dissipated, and thus the resulting product is "less ordered" than its predecessor. This is an incredibly cursory understanding of the law, mind--I'm not a physics expert. Entropy is often expressed as disorder, but the terms aren't truly interchangeable.

So, looking at a system like the universe, how is that it is so ordered? Surely, if natural laws don't account for it, it's a signal that there must be a god or gods to fill in the gap, right? Well, the answer is simple: It isn't.

If you look around us, you'll see that the earth appears quite well-ordered, and really, it is in many ways. But looking at the wider universe, there are vast pockets that aren't well-ordered at all. Just last month, there was an announcement that a final aspect of Einstein's theory of general relativity had been directly observed for the first time. These gravitational waves were caused when two massive black holes spiraled into each other, colliding with enough force to impact the actual fabric of space-time itself. That's an incredible lack of order.

And these events are not unique. In many ways, disorder outweighs order in our universe. Comets and astroids smashing into each other and other bodies. Neutron stars, supernovas, black holes, worm holes. Galaxies that collide with each other, overlap, and rearrange. Solar flares. There's as much disorder as there is order, and perhaps *more* of the former, depending on what you define as disorder.

So, I have to disagree with the very premise of this question unless the author can further define what they mean by order. I reject the concept of design outright, because it's unnecessary.

I do encourage Christians to avoid these kinds of arguments. They cry towards a "God of the Gaps" type of debate, and even prime theologians and apologists suggest avoiding it. When you define God by what you don't know, every discovery assaults the very idea of such a god's existence, because it reduces the amount of explanation needed. For instance, once upon a time, we needed gods to explain why it snowed, rained, flooded; why the sun came up and went down; why the seasons were regular and could be timed...and today, science has explained these concepts, reducing what we need God to explain. As each of these was explained, it could no longer be used as evidence for a deity or the supernatural. If you attempt to use God to fill a gap of knowledge, you also run the risk of having that evidence disproven outright by future discoveries, and that weakens your argument overall.

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