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What the universe says to me about design

October 24, 2009

I know a lot of people who say something like, “Look at the universe! How can you not believe there is a designer of all this?”

Trust me; if I were to attribute this universe to a designer, I would be forced to believe some frightening conclusions about that designer. I would be overwhelmed by such a designer’s remarkable incompetence and ineffeciency — no, scratch that…the universe could still be exemplary of a remarkably competent designer, if the designer’s goal was to create a house of nightmares and terrors…because I do have to admit that to have a universe that is so capable of destruction and carnage is a good feat in itself…all the ways you can die in “I Wanna Be the Guy” proves that.

Or, if the designer were trying to be a dadaist…he was remarkably competent at that?

…Really, to me, it would be insulting to attribute this universe to a designer. I don’t believe people mean that God was a dada-ist. Not believing in one is the least I can do to preserve the idea of a designer. As I discussed with heroes, if no one fits the bill, then I simply don’t assume anyone is.

What do I mean? I like this video from Neil deGrasse Tyson posted at Friendly Atheist, and also Greta Christina’s comments.

These are close to my sentiments as well. The thing I come to realize constantly is that if there were a designer, then he is responsible for all of this. As Tyson points out, the things he has mentioned exclude human free will disasters. They are not the product of a fallen world, but rather the setup that occurred in the “days” before humans even entered the scene, much less fell.

Adam F noted that one of the reasons he believes in a higher power is because of “existence.” To be sure, I don’t think he is making a design argument, but I still just don’t get why he believes existence points to any higher power. So I’m still probing there.

I don’t know how to put it, really. But if I were to attribute the universe to a higher power or designer just because it exists, then I would have to attribute this designer or higher power as either rather neutral toward us or downright hostile to us, because the universe he would have designed is either rather neutral to us or downright hostile. We, our lives, and everything we experience as good are a slim part of things in general, so I don’t think we have reason to believe that the universe comes out “net positive.” I simply fear to calculate if we do in fact come out negative or if it simply zeros with all the destruction being accidental. With a designer, I always have the possibility that, if he created this universe with design, he intended the destruction and chaos instead of it simply “being here.”

However, to not attribute this universe to a designer vanishes all these problems. Then, it’s no big deal if the universe appears to be hostile or neutral to us because it wasn’t designed to be anything. Instead of a designer with intentional malice, we simply have a dispassionate universe with negligence. And actually, even this is imprecise, since negligence implies as duty…a duty which doesn’t exist. So, things actually simply are what they are. In this case, we would still certainly feel it is horrible, but we would recognize that we need to suck it up because it’s not like we deserve any better. (That’s where I am at. I think that atheism is not about pride but instead about humility. Humility that the universe isn’t “for” us. It wasn’t put in our hands or designed to satisfy us.)

The strangeness of humanity and other lifeforms, then, is explicable. Our industrial wasteland that goes through the funpark is explicable if we don’t have a supposedly perfect civil engineer at its helm.

I think we have flipped the problem and must flip it back. Most people always want to talk about how the universe is designed for us. I think this simply doesn’t bear out. But what we can say (if the universe isn’t designed for life or the universe isn’t designed for human life) is that life has developed and adapted for the universe. In the same way that we don’t saya river is “designed for” a bridge but instead that the bridge is “designed for” (and around) the river, we can point out that we seem to be doing well enough despite the lack of care for us. It’s not the tremendously accommodating universe responsible for this (for the universe isn’t tremendously accommodating) — it’s we who are running briskly through terrible odds.

So we need to continue this paradigm. This is really what we’ve been doing. In fact, the bridge is an example of our doing this. The river wasn’t designed for us, but we have developed bridges, waterwheels, boats, to achieve our goals despite that river. We have developed medicine to ward against the many aspects of life which try to disease us. We have developed and projected purpose and meaning despite the silence of the universe.


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  1. Amen

  2. Mormon cosmology begs the question. Why do human males have nipples? Well, it’s because God has Nipples. Not very useful as an explanation.

  3. FireTag permalink

    As a pantheist, I think the designer IS the design and the designer/design incorporates everything so that the design/designer can experience all those possibilities, the infinite complexity.

    So reality is both passionate and dispassionate (which is more complex than either option). The gift is experience, the value of which is guaranteed by the fact that reality “chooses” that for itself.

    Sometimes it sucks to be us, but we GET to be us.

    There’s a concept in string theory called the “landscape”. Basically, there are 10 to the 500th power or so different ways to structure the dimensionality of space time itself, with all sorts of natural laws resulting from the same theoretical framework (which itself is not the only framework imaginable). Creatures like us are pretty well guaranteed by sheer numbers of possibilities. Someone eventually wins the lottery, even if it is seldom human beings.

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