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4.3.3. Further Objections to the World Ensemble Hypothesis

But there are even more formidable objections to the postulate of a World Ensemble of which Dawkins is apparently unaware. First, there’s no independent evidence that a World Ensemble exists, much less one that is randomly ordered and infinite. Recall that Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin proved that any universe in a state of overall cosmic expansion cannot be infinite in the past. Their theorem applies to the multiverse, too. Therefore, since the multiverse’s past is finite, only a finite number of other worlds may have been generated by now, so there’s no guarantee that a finely-tuned world will have appeared in the ensemble. By contrast we do have independent evidence for the existence of a Cosmic Designer, namely, the other arguments for God’s existence which we have been discussing. Thus, theism is, all else being equal, the better explanation.

Second, if our universe is just a random member of an infinite World Ensemble, then it’s overwhelmingly more probable that we should be observing a much different universe than what we in fact observe. Roger Penrose has pressed this objection forcefully.37 He calculates that it is inconceivably more probable that our solar system should suddenly form by the random collision of particles than that a finely-tuned universe should exist. (Penrose calls it “utter chicken feed” by comparison.) So if our universe were just a random member of a World Ensemble, it is incalculably more probable that we should be observing an orderly universe no larger than our solar system. Or again, if our universe were just a random member of a World Ensemble, then we ought to be observing highly extraordinary events, like horses’ popping into and out of existence by random collisions, or perpetual motion machines, since such things are vastly more probable than all of nature’s constants and quantities’ falling by chance into the virtually infinitesimal life-permitting range. Observable universes like those are simply much more plenteous in the World Ensemble than worlds like ours and, therefore, ought to be observed by us. We do not have such observations, which strongly disconfirms the multiverse hypothesis. On atheism, at least, it is therefore highly probable that there is no World Ensemble.

4.4. Conclusion

The fine-tuning of the universe is therefore plausibly due neither to physical necessity nor to chance. It follows that the fine-tuning is therefore due to design unless the design hypothesis can be shown to be even more implausible than its competitors.

4.5. Dawkins’s Critique of Design

Dawkins contends the alternative of design is, indeed, inferior to the Many Worlds hypothesis. Summarizing what he calls “the central argument of my book,” Dawkins argues,

  1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
  2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. . . .
  3. The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. . . .
  4. The most ingenious and powerful crane [i.e., explanation] so far discovered is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. . . .
  5. We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics. . . .
  6. We should not give up hope of a better crane arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology. . . .

[Therefore] God almost certainly does not exist.38

This argument is jarring because the atheistic conclusion, “Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist” doesn’t follow from the six previous statements even if we concede that each of them is true and justified. At most, all that follows is that we should not infer God’s existence on the basis of the appearance of design in the universe. But that conclusion is quite compatible with God’s existence and even with our justifiably believing in God’s existence on other grounds. Rejecting design arguments for God’s existence does nothing to prove that God does not exist or even that belief in God is unjustified.

In any case, does Dawkins’s argument succeed even in undermining the alternative of design? Step (5) alludes to the cosmic fine-tuning that has been the focus of our discussion. Dawkins holds out hope that “Some kind of multiverse theory could in principle do for physics the same explanatory work as Darwinism does for biology.”39 But he admits that we don’t have it yet, nor does he deal with the formidable problems facing such an explanation of cosmic fine-tuning. Therefore, the hope expressed in step (6) represents nothing more than the faith of a naturalist. Dawkins insists that even in the absence of a “strongly satisfying” explanation for the fine-tuning in physics, still the “relatively weak” explanations we have at present are “self-evidently better than the self-defeating . . . hypothesis of an intelligent designer.”40 Really? What is this powerful objection to the design hypothesis that renders it self-evidently inferior to the admittedly weak Many Worlds hypothesis?

The answer is contained in step (3). Dawkins’s objection here is that we’re not justified in inferring design as the best explanation of the complex order of the universe because then a new problem arises: who designed the Designer? (Because Dawkins erroneously thinks that the World Ensemble is simple, it never occurs to him to ask, “Who designed the World Ensemble?”) This question is apparently supposed to be so crushing that it outweighs all the problems with the World Ensemble hypothesis.

Dawkins’s objection, however, has no weight for at least two reasons. First, in order to recognize an explanation as the best, you don’t need to have an explanation of the explanation. This is an elementary point in the philosophy of science. If archaeologists digging in the earth were to discover things looking like arrowheads and pottery shards, they would be justified in inferring that these artifacts are not the chance result of sedimentation and metamorphosis, but products of some unknown group of people, even though they had no explanation of who these people were or where they came from. Similarly, if astronauts were to come upon a pile of machinery on the back side of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that it was the product of intelligent agents, even if they had no idea whatsoever who these agents were or how they got there.

To repeat: in order to recognize an explanation as the best, you don’t need to be able to explain the explanation. In fact, such a requirement would lead to an infinite regress of explanations so that nothing could ever be explained and science would be destroyed! For before any explanation could be acceptable, you’d need an explanation of it, and then an explanation of the explanation of the explanation, etc. Nothing could ever be explained.

So in the case at hand, in order to recognize that intelligent design is the best explanation of the appearance of design in the universe, one needn’t be able to explain the Designer. Whether the Designer has an explanation can simply be left an open question for future inquiry.

Second, Dawkins thinks that in the case of a divine Designer of the universe, the Designer is just as complex as the thing to be explained, so that no explanatory advance is made. This objection raises all sorts of questions about the role played by simplicity in assessing competing explanations. First, Dawkins seems to confuse the simplicity of a hypothesis with the simplicity of the entity described in the hypothesis.41 Positing a complex cause to explain some effect can be a very simple hypothesis, especially when contrasted with rival hypotheses. Think, for example, of our archaeologists’ postulating a human fabricator to explain the arrowheads they discovered. A human being is a vastly more complex entity than an arrowhead, but the hypothesis of a human designer is a very simple explanation. It is certainly more simple than the hypothesis that the artifacts were the unintended result of, say, a stampede of buffalo that chipped a rock to look like an arrowhead. The point is that it is rival hypotheses are assessed by the criterion of simplicity, not the entities they postulate.

Second, there are many other factors besides simplicity that scientists weigh in determining which hypothesis is the best, such as explanatory power, explanatory scope, and so forth. A hypothesis that has, for example, broader explanatory scope may be less simple than a rival hypothesis but still be preferred because it explains more things. Simplicity is not the only, or even most important, criterion for assessing theories!

But leave all those problems aside. For Dawkins is plainly mistaken anyway in his assumption that a divine Designer is just as complex an entity as the universe. As a pure mind or consciousness without a body, God is a remarkably simple entity. A mind (or soul) is not physical object composed of parts. In contrast to the contingent and variegated universe with all its inexplicable constants and quantities, a divine mind is amazingly simple. Dawkins protests, “A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe cannot be simple.”42 This is just confused. Certainly a mind may have complex ideas (it may be thinking, for example, of the infinitesimal calculus) and may be capable of doing complex tasks (such as controlling the trajectory of every particle in the universe), but the mind itself is a remarkably simple, non-physical entity. Dawkins has evidently confused a mind’s ideas and effects, which may, indeed, be complex, with a mind itself, which is an incredibly simple entity. Therefore, postulating a divine mind behind the universe most definitely does represent an advance in simplicity, for whatever that’s worth.

In his book Dawkins triumphantly relates how he once presented his supposedly crushing argument at a Templeton Foundation conference on science and religion at Cambridge University, only to be rebuffed by the other participants, who told him that theologians have always held that God is simple.43 They were quite right. Indeed, Dawkins’s smug and self-congratulatory attitude about his misguided objection, sustained even in the face of repeated correction by prominent philosophers and theologians like Richard Swinburne and Keith Ward, is a wonder to behold.

Therefore, of the three alternatives before us—physical necessity, chance, or design—the most plausible of the three as an explanation of cosmic fine-tuning is design. The teleological argument thus remains as robust today as ever, defended in various forms by philosophers and scientists such as Robin Collins, John Leslie, Paul Davies, William Dembski, Michael Denton, and others.44