But What’s at the Top?

And another thing. That idea that Dennett mentioned in the Spiegel interview.

…the idea that it takes a big fancy smart thing to make a lesser thing. I call that the trickle-down theory of creation. You’ll never see a spear making a spear maker. You’ll never see a horse shoe making a blacksmith. You’ll never see a pot making a potter. It is always the other way around and this is so obvious that it just seems to stand to reason.

That’s the idea that ‘Intelligent Design’ is all about, of course. The argument from incredulity – we just can’t believe that something as complex as a cell could have turned up without being designed. The argument from nonexplanation – natural selection just can’t explain how something as complex as a cell, and birds and flowers and humans, could have turned up without being designed. But what’s odd about that, along with the regress problem, is the way it goes backwards. It goes farther and farther and farther away from explanation, rather than getting closer and closer and closer to it. Which means surely that it’s not all that credible or explanatory itself – in fact it’s less so.

What needs explaining is all this apparent design. The human mind, cells, eyes, all that. Find a watch, must be a watchmaker, all that. Okay so what kind of designer would that be? Quite a proficient one. Right? Quite skilled. To design all this, it has to be quite a lot more skilled than anyone we’ve ever met or seen or heard of. And to be that much more skilled, it has to be quite a lot more complex. In fact – you could say that it’s simply incredible that it could be for instance made of the same basic constituent parts that we are made of, and yet be able to design us and everything else. It has to be so immensely skilled and complex that we can’t even really imagine its skill and complexity – we can only fling vague superlatives in its direction.

Well, okay, so you see the problem. If it’s that complex, then how do we explain it? We explain our complexity by pointing to it, and then we explain its complexity x [vast number of your choice] – how? If the problem is, if the source of incredulity is, that a complex thing needs explanation other than brute natural processes, then whatever made the complex thing that needs explaining, needs explaining a trillion or so times more than the complex thing at the first level. Oh dear. And the problem doesn’t stop there, because the next thing up will be more complex again, and so on with every level we go up. It’s not just a regress, it’s a regress that gets astronomically more insoluble with each step. If you need a big fancy smart thing to make this world, what kind of big fancy smart thing must you need to make that big fancy smart thing? Very big fancy smart indeed. So big fancy smart that you might as well give up, since otherwise the process just keeps on going forever, and makes no kind of sense. Of course we’re all at liberty to think that’s exactly how it is, if we want to – that there is an infinite series of infinitely big fancy smart things that have designed each other all the way down. But as for calling it an explanation – I don’t think so.

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