Unintelligent Design?

Allow me, for a moment, to explain some of my initial thoughts concerning what denial of God’s existence entails with respect to Design. If you hold that there is no God, and that there is no Design to the universe, there are a few things that follow. If there is no Designer, and if there is no Design, then there are no “designers” and there are no individual “designs.” None, at all, anywhere. I will now proceed to explain the same thing in probably too many ways and in probably too many words.

There is only cause and effect. “Intention” is reducible to material cause and effect products of the synapses of your brain inflicting cause and effect activity outside the brain. Wherever we detect what might be considered “intention,” we must see it as entirely incidental to the production of any particular object. If Mathematics, Logic, Geometry, et al came into being as a result of non-design, then absolutely nothing predicated upon those things can rightly be called or considered “designed,” without a healthy dose of special pleading. Why do we have patent laws? Why do we frown upon plagiarism? Why are we all of a sudden not guided by natural selection, and now rather feel entitled to the works of our own hands, taking credit for what was wrought through us by “nature”? What part of nature *isn’t* guided by natural selection?

At some point, nature gave you thought-matter and idea-matter that reacted with your brain-matter (also from nature) that caused you to produce a particular thing that you suddenly want to take credit for. How dare you presume upon some sort of “intention” or “design” in the formulation of your thought or product, affirming that there’s a designer, and that it is you! But you do not merely insist “that there’s design.” In fact you also insist upon your own designs, even wishing to prohibit (where you can) others from copying it and claiming credit for it! You “designed” it, and so you feel entitled to the profits of the works of your hands.

By reducing the mechanics of the universe’s origins to unguided cause and effect in order to avoid any notion of “design,” we are forced to conclude, therefore, that any subsequent claim of design concerning things *that are a result of* the original undesigned singularity must also be reduced to the same, unguided, natural processes. They have precluded any notion of “free will” and thus, intent, by offering what amounts to a deterministic universe. If we are not willing to grant that “design” presupposes a “designer,” then we must be consistent in regarding all “designs” in this same way. Otherwise, we must either provide an example or identify a precedent that allows us to rationally feel entitled to the designs of our own hands. Of course, any available example would come from within this universe, which is either designed or undesigned, depending on which side you’re on, and so any example would beg the question in at least that way. Unless it is the case that the universe has been designed, there is no precedent for “design.” Can those who deny the Omnipotent Designer God meaningfully differentiate between something “designed” and something not? They want to hold that the existence of the universe is entirely incidental to any god’s intent, but at the same time they want to make a direct causal connection between their own intent and whatever they produce. This is inconsistency.

It seems to me that if the universe is not the result of intention and design, then neither can any particular aspect of it be considered “intentional” or “designed.” This is assuming, of course, that human beings and their actions are part of the universe; not afforded a special status superior to the rest of the universe. If there is no “Design” in a cosmic sense, there cannot possibly be “design” in the terrestrial sense. You cannot derive milk from filtered water.

If you’re an atheist, you will object to this, probably by saying there does exist a concept called “design” that we subconsciously presume upon in everyday life. But as I said above, this only begs the question. If there is no “ultimate” design, there cannot “just be” particular designs. Otherwise the atheist should have no problem with our saying there “just is” a God.



Just a couple quick thoughts on this.

1. This looks a lot like the fallacy of division. You have not shown that “not designed” is a property that if true of the whole must also be true of all its parts.

2. If it were true that something that is not designed cannot have design or designers then it would follow that your god could not design since your god was not designed.

Matthias McMahon

Hey Jnani,

1. Sure, but you have to be careful that the property in question doesn’t involve the whole and its parts equally. For instance, “the Pacific Ocean is wet, therefore any part of it will also be wet” would be perfectly appropriate, whereas to say “the Pacific Ocean weighs millions of tons, therefore any part also weighs millions of tons” would not. There is a whole/parts correlation I’m indeed making, but not all such correlations are fallacious. I’m making an argument which is more akin to, “If there is no such thing as a ‘car,’ then there can’t be such things as ‘car parts.'” “Car parts” cannot be understood except in terms of “car.” “Car parts” implies the existence of “car.” Same goes with “morality,” “truth,” etc.

2. If God were a part of the created universe, then you would have a point. However, we repeatedly make the point that he is *not* part of Creation. This is relevant because my point has precisely to do with the universe. If human beings are brought about by undesigned natural processes, then you cannot meaningfully differentiate between something designed and something undesigned, not without conferring onto humans’ particular designs a status which transcends these natural processes. I allege that this inconsistency fatally undercuts their objection to God’s existence on the basis of undesigned natural processes.

I was hoping for some feedback so I could develop these very points, so thanks for commenting.



1. You are correct that it’s not always fallacious however; you probably should have used a better example. It is not true that any part of Pacific Ocean is wet. Atoms are part of the Pacific Ocean and they are not wet. I also think your car parts example is incorrect. Of course “parts” is going to assume there is something to be a “part” of so it’s not even related to the fallacy of division. Your argument is not that there is design IN the universe therefore there must be a universe. Your argument appears to be this:

(IF) The universe is not designed therefore there can be no design or designers in the universe.

The conclusion does not follow from the premise.

2. This seems more like special pleading. If there can be design within god even if god was not designed then why can’t there be design within the universe without the universe being designed? I don’t see how you can have it both ways.

Glad I could help.

Matthias McMahon

1. “Part” is quite vague, I admit. “Portion” may have worked. I could say “If the entire ocean is wet, then any amount of it will be wet.” Your point about cars and car parts is correct. I was saying that this issue is not related to the fallacy of division. I’m saying if there is no such thing as “car,” then “car parts” is unintelligible.

If the universe is not designed [because it is brought about by unguided natural processes], and all man’s actions are part of this universe, then “design” is wholly meaningless, or at best, relativistic. Notice I have in view those that object to God’s existence, who cite natural processes as their basis (e.g. “God doesn’t exist, because evolution/plate tectonics/natural selection…” etc.). And once you’ve afforded special status to man’s “designs,” you’ve undercut your justification for the assertion that the universe is not designed.

2. Christian theology dictates that God exists from himself, eternally existent as he is. It’s not an ad hoc reason I’m offering, so special pleading does not apply. That would presuppose that all conditions are equal (in which case I would arbitrarily be emphasizing my own position), which you may believe I am doing, but it is not. What you see as special pleading, I see as identifying a special “exception” (Don’t beat me up too bad for that term 🙂 I made it up). It’s a real, actual, significant distinction – the Creator/creature distinction – one that we mention quite frequently on this site. Might I suggest with respect that if you cannot conceive of a Creator God that is eternally self-existent and perfect and factor that into your assessment of my argument, then you simply lack the tools to be able to address it. In short, my answer to your question under 2 would be, “Because God is not the universe.”

Matthias McMahon

(By the way, whenever I say “you” in that last reply, unless I’m referring to something you in particular said, I’m referring to those who would make the argument I’m addressing in my post.)


1. It does not follow that if the universe is not designed then “design” is meaningless or relativistic. It also does not follow that one would have to give special status to mans designs. You would need to provide more support for those claims. It would make no less sense to say that if the universe was not farted into existence then there can be no farts in the universe. Design is a process of a mind just as farting is a process of a digestive system.

I think the problem here is that to support your claim you would need to show that minds cannot exist in a universe that was not designed. That would require a whole separate line of argument.

2. I think you are just defining the problem away here which is just another form of special pleading. I don’t expect we will get far with 2.

PS-Please forgive the poor humor.

Matthias McMahon

1. What I’m referring to when I speak of giving men’s actions “special status” is, the very same class of processes that brought about the universe including man’s existence (as far as atheists or other non-design-ers are concerned) is that which is at play in man’s own mind. Often when arguing against God’s existence or that the world is designed, people will cite natural process as their reason. (“The universe isn’t designed by God, because natural process brought the universe about.”) If natural process nullifies any notion of “design” in the foundation of the universe (as the argument against design assumes), and these same processes are at play in man’s mind (as design-deniers assume), then natural process must nullify (except for special pleading) any notion of design in man’s own actions. All this assumes, of course, that man’s mind is just as much nature as the rest of the universe.

2. “defining the problem away … is just another form of special pleading” if and only if the definition does *not* offer any real distinction. Your presuppositions do not provide a scope of “real” that mine do, and so as a result you do not see a “real” distinction. So I agree, we will not get far at all. Philosophical naturalism has little hope of ever landing a successful objection to Christianity.

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