Argument From Evolution
by Francois Tremblay
There is a popular belief that science can never prove or disprove the existence of a god, because science only concerns itself with the material. Of course, this has not stopped many Christians, even theologians, from boasting that science makes theism credible.
Both arguments are very weak. If a god does exist, this fact must have some implication for the nature of the universe. After all, this immaterial intelligence is said to have created the entire universe! If that was the case, we should expect, for instance, to observe that time and space pertain to different things. After all, a Creator of all can hardly exist in space, and yet must act in time. But we know from physics that this is not the case. Christian Creationism suffers from another problem: we do not observe lifeforms popping out of nothing, and yet this is what they claim happened for all “kinds”, including man.
The argument I will discuss here is similar to the latter, in that it mounts an inductive argument based on evolution. It is not, however, an argument against Creationism but against the notion of an intelligent, uncaused (and therefore non-evolved) being. The fact is that we do observe uncaused things, but they are all quantum events. We have never observed something macroscopic, let alone something as complex as an intelligence, pop out of nothing.
Yet this is what we are to believe about a “god”: that an infinitely powerful intelligence popped out of nothing, uncaused. Given the infinite improbability of such an event, we have to regard is as an absurd fable at best. If we accept the scientific fact that evolution is the only means to obtain intelligence, then the existence of a god is impossible.
Of course, the Christian might reply that his god did not pop out of nothing, but always was. This may very well be the case – but if that is his position, then he also has to accept the strong-atheistic position, that the universe always was, as being even more credible given the complexities involved. But more importantly, the strong-atheistic position does not involve intelligence being uncaused, but rather intelligence arising from evolution. This is a luxury that the theist cannot afford.
The Argument from Evolution, formalized by Kyle J. Gerkin in his article ‘A Counterclockwise Paley’, consists of the following syllogism:
- Organized complexity is the product of conscious design or natural selection.
- Intelligence is an example of organized complexity.
- Thus, intelligence is the product of conscious design or natural selection.
- Intelligent beings are capable of designing intelligence (i.e. computer artificial intelligence programmed by humans).
- However, only one mechanism has been discovered that can produce intelligence without requiring the existence of a prior intelligence. That mechanism is evolution through natural selection.
- Thus, the first intelligence evolved.
- Evolution requires:
- Self replication (heredity) with slightly imperfect copying fidelity (mutation).
- An environment that can favor one replicator over another (competition).
- Time for (a) and (b) to manifest themselves.
- None of the conditions in (7) were present before the existence of the universe.
- Thus, intelligence did not exist prior to the universe.
- Therefore, the universe did not have an intelligent creator.
Most of these premises are rather uncontroversial, at least to most rational people. It is fairly obvious that we have not observed any other means to produce organized complexity, and the strong-atheistic position does not contravene to (1) since the initial state of the universe was not complex, at least as we know it so far.
A hypothetical question can be raised against (5) and (8) – could not another mechanism be found to account for organized complexity or intelligence specifically? Gerkin himself answers this question in two parts. First, any mechanism that we would find in the future would have to be natural, and therefore could not exist before the universe. Secondly, even if we posit that some mechanism can exist in the “supernatural realm”, this mechanism and that realm would itself require a Creator. The only viable solution for the theist is to claim that intelligence can pop out of nothing, which goes against our scientific knowledge.
An objection has been raised in that line by William Kesatie in ‘Trimming the Wrong Hedge’. Keasatie argues that the argument only applies to material entities, because God was uncaused. This is a lame objection, and he must be aware of that: whatever position one has, one has to uphold an uncaused entity, material or not. In this view, Kesatie only highlights the absurdity of the theistic position in assuming the existence of an uncaused intelligence.
Basically, the Argument from Evolution demands that the theist accounts for the intelligence of this god. In this he is caught in a Catch-22. If he claims that intelligence is a very mundane thing to exist, then the existence of the universe and material intelligence is a much more mundane thing. If he claims that intelligence requires design, then he cannot claim that his god is intelligent.
The only possibility left at this point would be to take an impersonal view of “god” – that it is simply a principle or law. But this escape drains all meaning to our worship and reverence of “god”, and reduces it to a natural phenomena and some bastard form of pantheism.
Gerkin’s argument does something that few atheological arguments have ever done, putting into question the intelligence of the god-concept, and using a purely scientific argument that is so simple as to be available to the common reader. This is a very powerful argument that I think deserves to be known and used.
In emailing Gerkin, he has told me that another objection has been used against his argument – the idea that the Argument from Evolution does not apply to divine intelligence because it is simple. Now, it is unclear how we can make sense of any such statement as applied to a supernatural “thing”.We cannot say anything about a “supernatural intelligence” unless we know what it means.
Let’s go a little further and assume that “supernatural intelligence” is coherent. In this case, what evidence can we rely on? Inductive arguments point to the direction of infinite complexity. Indeed, all non-designed intelligences around us become more complex as they are more flexible and powerful. The sole conclusion we can draw is that the intelligence of a god must be extremely, or infinitely, complex.
September 24, 2004