Ungodly Complexity: A Quick Rebuttal

About a month ago I came across Rosa Rubicondor’s post: “Ungodly Complexity“. There is no way I could compete with the volume of information published there, but I did want to comment on this article as I’ve pondered it for the past month or so and the incredible insight it provides. I don’t intend to provide a formal rebuttal, but rather point out a quick flaw in the argument, then expand on that as the argument itself is something that I think we can ponder.

Quick note: I have no idea if the author is male or female. Because the persona of the blog is “Rosa”, I will refer to the author in the feminine.

The basic argument of the article is that simplicity in design is a signal of intelligent design, that unnecessary complexity shows a lack of intelligence, not a greater intelligence. The example used is a spear tip or a dibber.

nether-wallopoak-dibberThe dibber, in this argument, is a simple tool that effectively does its job.  The spear tip as well is simple in its design, is easy to make, and is always effective.

This argument is then extended to the natural world which, as anyone would admit, is extraordinarily complex. I can’t help but be reminded of this clip from Family Guy (couldn’t find an original video)

Starting with the foundation that simplicity in design = intelligent design, and unnecessarily complexity is a sign of a lack of intelligence, the post goes on to identify what the purpose of humans are. After stumbling through some passages in the bible, the post settles on Ecclesiastes 12:13, which reads “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.”

The argument is thus fully setup: if the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments, why the complexity? The argument can be summed up in this quote:

You see, the problem is, the vastly unnecessary complexity for such a nebulous purpose is not evidence of design, especially of intelligent design; it is evidence of unintelligent, undirected and purposeless design

Why I Don’t Entirely Buy the Premise

I don’t necessarily disagree with the premise that simplicity in design is a signal of intelligence. But it does ignore scope and scale.

Let me explain by way of a challenge. Since Rosa used a dibber as an example, let’s get 200 acres of land, 100 acres for me, 100 acres for Rosa. We are both to plant a crop of corn on our respective 100 acres.  Whoever finishes first, wins.

Since Rosa is in favor of the simplicity of a hand dibber, she can use one. I’ll use this:

stock-footage--agriculture-tractor-and-seeder-planting-canola-spring-long-head-on-and-turnWhoever finishes first, wins.

We can do the same thing with her example of a spear tip. We both go hunting for deer, she can use a spear tip, I’ll bring a rifle.

Obviously the human race hasn’t stopped innovating on the early designs she put forward as examples of intelligent design. But why? Are these early designs flawed? Of course not, but sometimes adding complexity, when done intelligently, allows a greater purpose, scope, and scale. The tractor pulling a seeder is more precise, faster, and far more efficient than a single dibber powered by a human hand. The rifle allows for far more efficiency in hunting than the simple spear tip. We see this addition of complexity added to instruments of every kind through history as we seek to do more in a more efficient way (which is why Rosa is using a blog, on a computer, over the Internet, to communicate rather than simply yelling).

Simplicity may be intelligent, but complexity allows for greater purpose.

What this Argument Allows…

I absolutely love the argument she put forward. In searching for the purpose of humanity she filtered down centuries of writing, thought, scriptures, and tradition down to a single verse in the bible (who knew it was that easy?). Unfortunately that verse is talking about the duty of man, not necessarily purpose.

As a Catholic, however, this argument itself is fantastic. Forget for a moment about whether the argument is legitimate or not, whether she has ‘disproved’ God or not. View this, if you will, from the standpoint of a Christian.  Her question looks at creation and begs the question to be asked: why? Why would God create such complexity? From the standpoint of a Christian who does believe God is the creator of every particle in the universe, this is a fascinating question.

We are able to put estimates on the size of the universe and attach numbers to this size, but are we really able to conceptualize its size? We are able to put numbers on just how small atoms, quarks, hadrons, etc are, but do we really have a full concept in our heads as to how the world works at this sub-atomic level? Can we imagine a solitary pebble on a planet in some distant solar system in a galaxy cluster beyond our possible reach?

The universe is an amazing, incredible place that we can ponder, explore, learn, unravel, and play in seemingly infinitely. Why, though, would God create such vastness, such smallness?

Atheists commonly misread the Bible, but this is one of the key messages in Genesis 2: the entire universe, and everything in it, was made for humans. We are created rational, reasonable beings with intelligence and curiosity. God wants us to explore, to learn, to discover. He wants us to play, and creation is our playground.

I have young children. Just like any parent, I’ll often create something for my kids to play with and explore. Their exploration and play teaches them basic skills and lessons that cannot be taught in a classroom and which form a foundation for more formal education.

Creation, in all of its wondrous complexity, is a giant playground that God gave us to gaze at, to be inspired by, to be confounded by, to explore, discover, ponder, and enjoy. Creation exists so that we may know God more and encounter Him in ways that simple books and words cannot hope to accomplish. We encounter God in science, in creation, our relationships, both good and bad, in love, in death, in birth, in happiness, in sadness, and so on. God, like any parent, wants us to use our reason and intellect, our curiosity and desire for discovery, and as we marvel in awe at His incredible creation we gain glimpses of this God that cannot be explained in simple words, inspired though they might be.

Our Real Purpose

So what is our purpose? If I were asked to pull it down to one verse like Rosa tried, I wouldn’t choose Ecclesiastes, I’d go with Matthew 22:37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And to love God in this way is to come to know him, both in religion, but also in the created universe – the playground He gave His children.

 

 

 

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Are the Creation Stories Allegorical or Factual?

Yesterday I posted on some atheists seemingly endless obsession with creationism and how they seemed to be falling into problems of scope as well as missing the point of the text. This uncovered, as with so many topics like this, a wealth of sub-topics that deserve attention.

The conversation that resulted from that post has been very good. Over at Atheism Debate, two of my new atheist friends offered fantastic insight and nuance to the discussion and others have provided some very useful feedback. This is one of the reasons I love talking about religion – it can only serve to sharpen what we truly believe!

One comment that came up in multiple discussions was the idea that because I am not reading the creation stories as a literal factual account of creation that I must be reading them allegorically.  When I try to test myself with these terms, neither fits quite right. I believe the literal truth that the creation stories are teaching, and I believe that the story uses allegorical elements to convey some of those greater truths.

Literal, Allegorical, Literalistic, and Figurative

1054521658_1372794139Looking for more information on this, I found a nice quick distinction from someone who made a distinction between “literal” and “literalistic”. He used the following sentence as an example:

“It’s raining cats and dogs outside.”
Literal meaning: its raining hard
Literalistic meaning: cats and dogs are falling from the sky!

I believe the creation stories are literal, not purely allegorical as some would cast them.  I believe that mankind started with a man and a woman and that God created man and woman. I believe that we were created to walk with God in a paradise. And I believe that man violated this through original sin after speaking with the devil.  I don’t believe that these beliefs are incompatible with the theory of evolution.

Furthermore, I believe the story of creation uses a lot of figurative language to tell this story.  The story is somewhat allegorical, but it is not purely an allegory. And I believe this came from both creation stories origins.

The Genesis of Genesis

I’m not a biblical scholar, and I don’t intend to play one on the Internet. But the church has recognized that the creation stories told in Genesis are most probably written from popular narratives that existed at the time of its writing.  We see similar creation stories in non-biblical sources to help collaborate this theory.

Whenever we read a source material it is essential to consider the audience.  The creation stories and Genesis were not being written to be submitted for peer review. In reading Genesis the theme throughout the entire book is God’s relationship with man, man’s repeated betrayal of this relationship, and God’s promise to renew this relationship through ever deepening covenants.  This theme is told through recounting the history of mankind, often telling these stories using figurative language.

My Simplistic Way of Understanding

IMG_4563

One of my favorite movies growing up was Braveheart. The story of William Wallace and his love and struggle for freedom is a story that easily resonates. The story of William Wallace is true, but the move Braveheart is not entirely true.

The writers of Braveheart and Mel Gibson wanted to tell a story based on real events that exemplified the themes of man’s struggle against tyranny, a struggle for freedom. We give writers creative license to convey essential truths in a more esoteric manner.

And this is OK. It is not dishonest.  Just because the movie doesn’t hold up as a historically accurate narrative of William Wallace’s life doesn’t mean that he didn’t exist, and it doesn’t negate the themes of freedom and liberty that run throughout the movie.

Quick Disclaimer: analogies are imperfect and limited by their very nature. This analogy obviously breaks down by virtue of the fact that as a Catholic I believe the Bible to be the word of God and flawless (Braveheart is not inspired). However, even though the analogy breaks down there, it does not negate the fact that each book of the bible was written by someone who was writing for their contemporaries in a unique voice and style. Ignoring this is simply narrow and simple-minded.

But How Can We Tell the Difference?

One of the complaints I often hear from atheists is the disagreement on scripture among Christians. Non-sola scriptura adherents talk about how one verse uses figurative language while another should be interpreted in a literalistic sense. How is anyone supposed to know the difference?

It is a valid complaint. There is a reason that we have had nearly 2,000 years of scriptural scholars. The scriptures are incredibly rich with symbolism that is borrowed and referenced between books that were written centuries apart. Dissecting this in light of the history of Judeo-Christianity is no small task.

The first is obvious: look at who the book is being written for. Song of Songs is poetic in its nature. Psalms are canticles. Acts of the Apostles is a historical narrative.

Secondly, realize that these are books that were written in different languages over the course of several centuries to various audiences with differing styles of being written.  The bible isn’t a book – it is a collection of books. The study of these collections can consume a lifetime. Reading these books should be done with the goal of studying the texts.

This is one of the many reasons I love my Catholic faith. I don’t believe God would have given us the Bible and then say “have at it!”. The Catholic church teaches that the Bible is a written portion of the deposit of faith which goes along hand in hand with Tradition (notice the capitalization which is important). While the church does not interpret every verse of the Bible, it does hold that deposit of faith upon which individual interpretations can be tested.

I know it is not much of an answer for someone who is starting with the viewpoint that there is no God, and I don’t expect it to get much traction. It probably opens up far more discussion as well, but I’ve already let it known that I enjoy these discussions…

Update

Why try to rewrite what someone like Fr. Baron has already addressed. I would highly recommend watching this: