Blind, Pitiless, Indifference

Back from the dead folks.  Somehow someone found out who I was, and this prevented me from a job opportunity.  I feel persecuted.  I think I will eventually be open about my beliefs.  Not an easy thing living where I do.  Here is a post that is old news.  I think it is noteworthy because it is the latest attempt by apologists to keep God alive.  It is actually not that bad of an argument.

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.  Richard Dawkins

I was in discussion with a believer who referred to Stephen Meyer, the intelligent designer.  Meyer believes that Dawkin’s quote actually makes his case for him.  Here is a quote from his new book.  Yes, I own a copy of his book on Kindle.  Why? Because I committed to myself to understanding all arguments.  Arguments are fun to analyze, especially if they are most likely wrong.

They have argued, as Richard Dawkins has done, that “the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose . . . nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”  But the evidence examined so far suggests the need to reassess such claims. That the universe had a beginning, that it was finely tuned from the beginning, and that our planet has experienced dramatic discontinuous increases in biological form and information since the beginning are not at all what proponents of a naturalistic worldview would most “naturally” expect. [Return of the God Hypothesis by Meyer]

I agree with Meyer that if framed like this, then Dawkin’s quote works for him and not against him.  But that is only if we accept his premises.  I think Dawkins was mainly referring to the problem of suffering anyhow.  Meyer says that if the cosmos had a beginning, then we can’t use physical explanations to describe how something came out of nothing.  In other words, physics can only explain how matter and energy interact but not how they came into existence.  It must, according to Meyer, be something transcendent. Atheists at one point could claim that the cosmos was all eternal—that is, had probably always existed.  But most evidence now suggests that the cosmos had a beginning.  Of course, we do not have a detailed explanation of the origin of the cosmos.

Laws of nature describe how nature operates and how different parts of nature interact with one another; they don’t cause the natural world to come into existence in the first place. This suggests the futility of waiting for the discovery of some new law of nature or a “theory of everything.” No law of nature can close the causal discontinuity between nothing and the origin of nature itself. [Return of the God Hypothesis by Meyer]

Does this mean that Meyer is using the God of the gap fallacy?  He claims he is not since he uses abductive reasoning, like all of science, to form a hypothesis that explains the evidence.  I think he is correct, and I explain why here.  Besides Meyer claiming that science can’t explain how the universe came into existence, he also complains how science cannot figure out where the information in DNA came from nor explain the appearance of design when it comes to fine-tuning.  The biggest challenge I face as an atheist, however, is explaining to others how the universe came from nothing.  I don’t even attempt it because we don’t know.

What I can attempt to explain is that saying that a transcendental (supernatural) force is behind it all is unwarranted.  I mean you can do it.  Meyer did.  But how does Meyer come to the conclusion that the cause of the universe must be transcendental?  He uses a priori reasoning, not evidence [1].  This does not exclude something from being correct, but it is not as convincing as evidence.  If I suspend my bias and look at the problem squarely, I do not understand why we must think something came from nothing.  The barebones parts to form the universe as it is today, whatever they turn out to be, must have always been there in the first place.

If it turns out that the universe did come from nothing, or appears that way, does this mean that there is a transcendental force behind it?  Maybe.  But we could figure out what that above-and-beyond force is.  But the believers would say that the supernatural is unknowable through direct means.  In fact, my son asked his religious leader, “Who created God?”  His retort was God has no beginning or end.  To me, the supernatural is a mental construct that humans created, in addition to counter-arguments to keep Him being viable as a God.  This is exactly what Meyer is doing here.  We will look at his hypothesis in detail next.  


[1] To be fair, Meyer did use some evidence.  Not much though.  He observed that the world has a beginning, that the origin of DNA has yet to be explained empirically, and that the world may be finely tuned.  He then makes an inference to the best explanation based on these observations.  He says that this is not what we would expect to find if we believed in cause and effect and that there was no intelligent designer behind it all.  Meyer asks where did the informational power of DNA come from, and how did the cosmos become finely tuned?  The answer to these questions is probably found in Meyer’s poor formulation of these problems along with his self-serving premises.  Many others have addressed this elsewhere.  This post is not meant to be exhaustive by any means.

[2]. How do I know God is a mental construct used for multiple purposes?  I cannot address this entirely here, but it should be obvious given the imagination of the mind and how prone it is to anthropomorphism.  The problem with God, or whatever name we choose to use, is that this model cannot make predictions.  We have no idea how the supernatural behaves if we give it x, y, or z inputs.  He is whatever we choose Him to be, and does whatever we want him to do—the bible notwithstanding.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    It is actually not that bad of an argument.

    Alas, as you demonstrate (in part), not that good of one either.

  2. Pete Schwartz says

    I appreciate your well-written piece. However, I do feel that saying, “physics can only explain how matter and energy interact but not how they came into existence. It must, according to Meyer, be something transcendent.” is indeed using the the god gap fallacy. Science is the only way we have of truly understanding the world. It isn’t beyond its scope for investigating the origins of the universe and physicists have developed hypotheses on the topic. This is where theists try to use science and its current limited understanding on the matter to their advantage. “You don’t know so it must be god.”

    The arguments that continue from theists after such a debate begins are somewhat predictable; the universe can’t come from nothing and therefore was designed by god; all of life evolved but according to god’s plan; cruelty and suffering of life on planet Earth are all part of this plan, etc.

    • musing says

      Thanks, Pete. I’ve come a long way since I wrote a vitriolic piece several years ago on Christianity’s eternal damnation. I have so many friends and family members that are believers that I changed (succumbed?) to be as temperate and respectful as possible when addressing these heated issues. But I get your frustration, and I agree with you.

      It certainly looks like a god of the gaps fallacy. But it is an inference to the best (worst?) explanation. It only works because of how Meyer has constructed everything. In my next post, which I will write tomorrow evening and post Tuesday or Wednesday, I will deconstruct what he’s done. Most people aren’t interested in the details of the logic. But I think it matters a whole lot.

  3. says

    Fine tuning is a silly argument.
    I remember someone (?Twain?) wrote that a puddle looked around the depression it existed in and declared, “clearly this depression was exactly made for a puddle such as me.”
    A more likely view is that life evolves into the universe in which it finds itself. Perhaps it’s a universe where DNA makes sense, perhaps RNA, perhaps something else. Perhaps photosynthesis makes sense, perhaps thermoelectrics or radioactive decay. On our little planet there are archaea that eat paint, and others “eat” the heat from radon decaying.
    The universe is not “fine tuned” to life, life is “fine tuned” to live.

    • musing says

      Hi Marcus. Yes, we evolved into the world we found ourselves in. The design argument has an intuitive appeal to it though. That’s the thing I would like to learn more about. For example, it seems extraordinary that if each of our great-great-grandparents, going back generation by generation, never met, then we would not be here today. What is the probability of all of those things happening in precisely the right way to form us? It is very small. But the circumstances were arranged in such a way to be realized; otherwise, we would not be here to report it. But it was bound to happen to someone, and it just so happened to be us. Can we say the same types of things for the formation of the universe and life? I don’t think we know enough yet.

      Even though technically their argument is not a God of the gaps, which I show in the next post, it is still appealing to plug in a God where we may not have a good explanation yet. So for all practical purposes, it is a God of the gap argument. It would sure solve a lot of problems if there were an intelligent force behind it all, but that intelligence is obviously not present in the universe anymore. It just doesn’t add up. And if intelligence has yet to be found in the universe, then by uniform experience, there is no reason to believe that it is behind it all too. But we can challenge this argument because this intelligence can be a special case not present in our uniform experience.

  4. Kirknoodle says

    The grandparents thing is rather odd. If they didn’t meet, they would have met someone else. But actually in many historical communities who ends up with who could be fairly predictable due to arranged marriages and networks of existing relationships or tendency to marry a neighbor – hardly miraculous.
    We might regard any single pairing of humans as improbable, but considering of any large enough grouping of humans at least some of them will pair up, that improbables will occur is a certainty, that is, the improbable becomes probable in large enough numbers or under demand that there be at least one pairing.

    To the nothingness problem thing, I think the solution is the same as the problem of time. We know from primes that there seems to be an odd relationship between pure numbers and energy (and quantum mechanics, with primes possibly even being a quantum system), yet pure numbers don’t seem to ‘require’ time. Time and energy have an uncertainty relationship. If the ‘0’ at the beginning of our universe had an energy associated with it, then something would necessarily have to come to exist.
    There are exciting days in our future. Don’t fall for a god of the gaps.

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