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.

 

 

 

Why Can’t Atheists Read Genesis Like Other Historical Texts?

I firmly believe that if the Bible were not the Bible, and if atheists did not have so much contact with fundamentalist Christians who take a literalist view of the bible (or, conversely, liberal Christians who take a far more allegorical view of the bible), that the books of the Bible would be read with much more care and study. But as it is, many atheists seem to fall into the camp of treating the bible only through a modern lens.

Pope Pius XII discussed reading and understanding the early texts of the Bible:

What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of the East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use. For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East (Divino Afflante Spiritu 35–36).

I tried to make this point in this post here, although my attempt was admittedly feeble and lacked depth. I added on a video from Fr. Baron who does a much better job describing the “ham handed approach” atheists often take towards these ancient texts. That video is below (and highly recommended):

It is in light of this that I easily get pulled into discussions on the Bible when I see tweets like this:

https://twitter.com/Mattwaggy14/status/374975820693258240

Ok, so let’s ignore the obvious fact that the Genesis account never says that Adam and Eve had just 2 sons (poor Seth, always the forgotten one).  Let’s also ignore the fact that Gen 5:4 explicitly says that Adam had “sons and daughters”@prophetAtheist, a person who I consider to be one of the good guys on Twitter (and who has shown me just how clumsy I can be in debate), more explicitly pointed out what @mattwaggy14 was trying to say:

What baffled me here was why the assumption was that Adam and Eve didn’t have any daughters.

This reply actually made me stop for a minute: was he actually advocating for more than a literalist reading of Genesis? It is one thing to argue that Genesis should be read in a literalist fashion (although that is, as Fr. Baron states, “a ham-handed approach”), but to imply that if Genesis omitted something that therefore we should believe it didn’t occur?

The possibilities of a reductio ad absurdum argument here are just too plentiful. Do we believe that Adam and Eve went to the bathroom? Never says so in Genesis. We don’t have an account of Eve dying – is she supposedly immortal according to Genesis?

I have a certain affinity for atheists. I respect their call to logic and reason and using the human intellect, but, on the whole, their approach to ancient texts like Genesis is thoroughly clumsy and not thought out. In discussing these early texts with a few different atheists, and in viewing countless other conversations and opinions, most atheists seem to approach these texts through the prism of modern expectations. There is little to no effort whatsoever to understand the context, the philology, common literary forms of the day, culture, etc.

Atheists seem to want to put Genesis, and those who believe it to be the word of God, into two buckets: “literalist reading” and “allegorical” reading (akin to legend). What they dismiss is the literal (not literalist) reading that accounts for the style of historical writing. From Catholic.com:

It is impossible to dismiss the events of Genesis 1 as a mere legend. They are accounts of real history, even if they are told in a style of historical writing that Westerners do not typically use.

This doesn’t seem so hard to accept and understand. In academics we frequently cite the period, the civilization, the culture, the philology and cultural norms to understand texts, especially when those texts are more foreign to our modern way of writing and doing things. Why can’t we do these with the ancient texts of Genesis?  Keep in mind that Pope Pius XII advocates for more than just context and philology. Why can’t we use that reason, logic, and critical thinking to understand that the texts deserve, at a minimum, a fair reading before they are dismissed as pure fraud?

And just in case you didn’t click on that link above, I would recommend reading this on Catholic.com. Much better stated than I could ever hope to say.