Mill and Russell Speak Up

And while we’re on the subject of ‘Intelligent Design’ and the people at the ‘Discovery Institute’ and so on – I just feel like aiming another kick at the design argument. I know I’ve done it before, I’m repeating myself, but – but I’m not sure they get shouted at enough about this.

Okay their big thing is ‘_____ is too complex to have come about without a designer. _____ is irreducibly complex, so a designer must have designed it, because otherwise it wouldn’t be there, being so complex and all.’ Complex things can’t just happen. A hurricane can’t whip through a junkyard and leave a 777 behind. An inebriated chimpanzee can’t shred a pile of old newspapers and end up with a first edition of Tobacco Road. A blizzard can’t produce a snowperson bearing an exact resemblance to Marie Dressler in ‘Dinner at Eight.’ What are the odds that there could be a universe so incredibly carefully calibrated that after some billions of years, what do we find? Us! How likely is that? The odds against it are – there are more numbers in that number than there are atoms in the universe. Therefore, there has to be a designer – that’s the only explanation. Anything else just can’t have happened the way it did.

Okay, so how did the designer get here? If ______ is too complex to have come about without a designer, then obviously whoever or whatever designed _____ has to be pretty complex too, right? So if the first item is inexplicable without a designer, why isn’t the second? Why is the cell too complex to explain without a designer, while the designer itself is not? Why is the designer, in fact, an explanation? Why is it an explanation at all? Why isn’t it more like a bad joke? (Well, it is, actually, it’s the tortoises all the way down joke. But do IDers get it?) It’s like saying ‘how did this chocolate cake get here?’ and being shown for answer – another chocolate cake.

No, the reality is, the argument from design is just a shop window thing. It’s just a pretense. IDers don’t want an explanation (that’s obvious, because if they did, by now they would have taken in the fact that ID isn’t an explanation at all) – they want their God, and they think ID is a respectable way to be able to have it. In fact it’s not respectable, because it’s so silly. An explanation that doesn’t explain anything is silly. But they do get people to listen to them. Maybe if the obvious problem with the designer were more widely noticed, they’d have more trouble.

Bertrand Russell had good blunt things to say about all this, as you might expect. In Why I Am Not a Christian, for instance.

you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: “My father taught me that the question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?'” That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, “How about the tortoise?” the Indian said, “Suppose we change the subject.”

Or in another version, ‘You can’t fool me, young person, it’s tortoises all the way down.’ (It’s a nice touch that it was Mill, because Mill was Russell’s secular ‘godfather.’ I find that a very pleasing small fact.)

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