The most common argument for the existence of God these days seems to be the Argument from Design. Other arguments have come and gone, but the Design Argument remains popular. I want to finally put this argument to rest.
The argument has several variations, but it usually points out that in order for life to exist, a large number of physical constants must be within extremely narrow ranges. This is true. Given a random distribution of values, the likelihood of our universe having exactly the constants that it does is infinitesimally small. It appears as though it was made for life.
However, even within this exquisitely fine-tuned universe, 99.99999???% of it is uninhabitable. Most of it is vast emptiness. We are aware of billions of stars and an increasingly large number of planetary systems that don’t support life. Even on our own planet, in this tiny corner of the universe, the conditions for life are limiting. Life doesn’t thrive on earth’s deserts, from Sahara to Antarctica, and beyond certain temperature extremes. If you increase your altitude to just 10 miles — thinner than the paint on a desktop globe — you would not be able to survive for a prolonged period of time due to the low temperature and lack of oxygen.
When viewed in that light, the universe doesn’t appear well suited to life. Life struggles to survive in an exceptionally narrow range of this supposedly fine-tuned universe.
Further, I don’t see how anyone could argue that biological systems are well-designed. There are thousands of known hereditary diseases, which means there are thousands of ways for the human body to fail. We spend more as a percentage of GDP on medicine — the organized effort to control organic design failure — than just about anything else. And that doesn’t include all the environmental insults and communicable diseases (as if the innate design of the body wasn’t bad enough, God had to throw in thousands of other hurdles to thwart our ability to live, right?).
No, livings things do not exhibit good design. They exhibit a patchwork of good and bad designs, struggling against each other to survive — which is exactly what we would expect from a system that builds complexity through selection pressures on random modifications and historical constraints.
Every engineer knows that good design involves compartmentalization of subsystems, so if one part of the system fails, the whole system doesn’t have to fail. Yet what we see in living things is pleiotropy — parts get reused in many places, and the various subsystems constitute overlapping networks (that’s why drugs have side-effects). That’s bad design!
And why would a god produce a Creation that was innately pitted against itself? Predator against prey, parasite against host. It’s certainly not a harmonious existence. On the other hand, ecosystem dynamics are perfectly in accordance with what we would expect from evolutionary agents sampling the behavior space for local fitness maximization.
Finally, what about those constants? Why are they so fine-tuned? We don’t know. One hypothesis holds that we live in a multiverse, and that each universe takes on different values for those constants. Some are capable of supporting self-organizing chemistry (which is all that life is, at bottom), and some are not. Naturally, we would only end up in one that does, and we would marvel at how exquisitely designed it was “just for us.”
We have no evidence for the multiverse explanation, but then, we have no evidence for the existence of gods either. Without evidence to arbitrate between these explanations, they are equally likely. So you can’t claim that fine-tuning of the physical constants is ipso facto evidence of gods. I provided one alternative explanation, but there could be many more. Our inability to formulate better answers doesn’t make the ones that we have correct.
And it seems to me that the explanation involving a Supernatural Man, especially a Supernatural Man with all the character flaws of earthly humans, including jealousy and anger and vindictiveness, isn’t the best explanation we can come with. It’s the kind of explanation we would expect from primitive people who couldn’t think beyond their own psychosocial paradigm.
We can do better than to commit a Mind Projection Fallacy in order to explain the universe. The Argument from Design is insufficient.