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← Against All Gods

Steve Zara's Avatar Jump to comment 3 by Steve Zara

I love the argument from complexity, I honestly do. I'm not being ironic, I really do find it the most fascinating argument for gods that there is, because it's actually the only argument that has ever made any kind of sense - although in retrospect, it never did. Here is something so strange, so detailed, so complex, that it could never have just turned up by itself. It had to be made, and being made means there must be a maker. It feels like a good argument. It is a pretty good argument generally, but it fails in one critical situation, which is when we are trying to explain ultimate origins.

Complexity seems to have a cost of explanation which needs to be funded by a creator. But it doesn't. Even if we put aside natural selection, complexity still doesn't need funding. Thanks to the work of the mathematical physicist Ludwig Boltzmann we know that complexity may only need time:

Take one universe. Add particles of various sorts. Mix thoroughly. Put into a sealed heat-proof container, and simmer. Wait. Eventually anything and everything will appear. You get complexity for free.

This isn't magic. The second law of thermodynamics, that everything falls apart, isn't actually a law. It's more of a guideline. It isn't a guideline for the world, it's a guideline for our understanding, written by us. Given enough time the second law just gives up and walks away.

This is seriously important for cosmology. It means that if you have a vast dull nearly-empty universe, you will eventually get a Big Bang. If quantum gravity exists, then this is pretty much inevitable. It needs no explanation, just time. We get a new universe, in fact an endless number of them, for free.

Now lets add in the work of Darwin. Darwin showed how complexity can appear quickly, by a form of dodgy gambling. You fund your bet with the complexity of a genome, make countless small bets through mutation, and Natural Selection will pay you back handsomely. Well, apart from when the casino of life is burnt to the ground by an asteroid. So we get complexity for free anyway. It's not just natural, it's guaranteed.

That's not good enough for many believers, as they want there to be a creator. A creator messes things up, though, because what is wanted is a heavenly self-portrait of the believer, a creator who shares the same loves, the same hates, the same morals. Portraits are hard to paint. They are full of detail. And so, a creator is necessarily complex, even if the picture is crude. A creator is also fearfully self-defeating as a kind of beginning of everything. If we want to explain the origin of human attributes through a creator, then we have to explain where those complex attributes came from:

If they came from a complex creator, then we haven't explained anything; we are just facsimiles of that being.

If the creator is not complex then the creator can't be the source of the complexity, it has to be added somehow, so adding a creator doesn't help.

There is also the problem, and it is a huge one, of how the creator created. Unless we know what happened, we can't say who did it. We have to let off any being suspected of the crime of creation because of lack of method and opportunity. We have to say reasonable doubt.

So-called irreducible complexity is never an argument for a creator, because a creator isn't the kind of thing that helps us understand ultimate origins. It's not just wrong, it's irrelevant.

Thu, 26 Jul 2012 16:42:58 UTC | #950112