The Atheistic God

2020 May 4

Everybody explains cosmological and life origins in terms of their preferred god. For some the god is a being, for others the god (effectively) is a non-living mechanistic process. note

The atheist will argue that they do not believe in any god and be offended. However, their non-living mechanistic processes fulfill the exact same role as a god. For them it has all power to produce the world that we observe even in the face of astounding improbabilities and severe gaps in our understanding.

Generally there are two reasons why people attribute things to a god. Either they do not understand their world and say a god did things in it for reasons unknown, or they have revealed knowledge about a god and see things done in the world as part of the god fulfilling its purposes. Similarly, individuals believe in god-like mechanisms whether they trust in them from a position of not understanding, or from a position of understanding (sometimes over-confident understanding).

Often they will claim (as Steven Hawking and others do) that the laws of nature made the material world. This is a mistake because what we call laws are simply mathematical descriptions of our observations. Certainly the mathematical formulas themselves have no creative power at all. Formulas can describe forces and effects, but they are specifically impotent for causing the world that we inhabit.

Our fine-tuned universe with life on it is astoundingly improbable. (See Return of the God Hypothesis) The formulas of physics do not make it likely our universe came into existence in the form we observe because the formulas contain not only mathematical relationships, but also parameters - precise constants. There is nothing in the math that makes the exact parameters of our universe be likely. Statistics asserts this to be so, and everybody tacitly agrees. (See The Multiverse God.)

True hard science is about developing predictive models of the world that can be reproducibly verified. Neither cosmological origins nor life origins theories (whether deistic or mechanistic), are in this category. They are historical theories and and by definition cannot be reproduced. The best approach to judging them is by inference to the best explanation. Follow the data where it leads - even if it does not comply to a desired world view (such as atheism or materialism).

If scientists observe consistent patterns of some sort in material objects, they are trained to look for some natural law that would produce the effect. note This effort is at the core of hugely successful modern science. It is established on an assumption that the effect of natural law is to mindlessly drive natural processes toward preferred patterns.

Examples of natural laws:

  • stream beds are cut by water that always flows downhill
  • regularized lattices are formed by molecules that crystallize
  • sunlight is maximally captured by tree leaves that are evenly spread by chaotic growth attractors

It is surprising to me, but many materialistic evolutionists also hold a theological viewpoint related to this.

They see that any creating god (being supernatural) would not be constrained by natural laws, and therefore the god would not limit itself to repeatedly reusing patterns in the designs of what it makes. This god would design everything instead to be as different as possible. (This is the Principle of Plenitude note) Having then adopted this theology, this materialistic observer sees the patterns of similarity between living things and concludes that they had to have been the result of natural processes. note

Note that these observers, who usually are atheists, also “know” that a creating god cannot exist and so therefore are doubly convinced that natural processes are the reason for the existence of life.

They are both trained to look for underlying natural law causes, and they are certain that a god is impossible. These two combine into an unshakable confidence that life on earth came from a mechanistic origin. This is their belief. These believers either literally cannot notice problems with mechanistic evolutionary life theories, or they only see the problems as homework for new scientists to resolve.

This focus can be seen in the article Fine-Tuning Really Is A Problem In Physics where the writer says “In science, our goal is to describe everything we observe or measure in the Universe through natural, physical explanations alone.”

It is no trouble to look for natural causes, but that search is no reason to reject explanations by agent causes.

This is an opinion about gods, so thus it certainly is a theological viewpoint.

Immanuel Kant for example:

"It is clear that there is no reason why the celestial bodies must organize their orbits in one single direction. … Thus, God’s choice, not having the slightest motive for tying them to one single arrangement, would reveal itself with a greater freedom in all sorts of deviations and differences." Collected Works of Immanuel Kant

This is an application of the Principle of Plenitude to what a god would do. It is an instance of the general opinion that the world as we see it never could have been constructed by a god because no god would ever have made the world to be like we see it. This is an unfounded pure opinion.

See also Darwin's God: The Most Dangerous Kind of Religion. And search in this Darwin's God blog for "plenitude".

What Designers Do

This theological viewpoint is based on faulty thinking. It deliberately misunderstands designers. I am a designer of software and of music and I attest that this perspective is very false. In both software and music, yes, I could choose to achieve my goal through random means - by using all options that are possible within the limitations of each environment. However, that is never what I do. I consistently impose limitations on myself: to make patterns that are understandable to others (communicating information), and that are aesthetically interesting. Instead of lots of randomness or fixed repeated patterns, what I design and produce is functional for specific purposes and it is useful.

These characteristics clearly show that what I have made has been designed because it is so unlike what natural processes would produce. note

I am able to choose to NOT make things completely random or completely repetitive. Instead, I make them functional to communicate via familiar patterns. And I include variety to surprise and delight the recipient.

Why doesn’t the Principle of Plenitude apply to my creative works? It is because I have agency; it is obvious that I choose to make something different. However, those that take the opinion that the Principle must apply to a creative god shows that the person believes (or is arguing) that a god does not have agency. This is illogical even if you don’t believe that any god exists.

  • Music is said to occur naturally, as for example the sound of ocean waves, wind singing through cracks and hollows, or the sound of rainfall on things. However within the limitations of these "musical instruments", there is no pattern in the “music”. Natural “music” is unlike music made by humans because it is so completely random. note
  • If I were to invent a system where nature could write down software, it would make random content without useful functionality. (As such, I’m not sure we could even classify this as real software.) So, nature would only produces useless non-functional “software” noise, again unlike software made by humans. note

Note that nature's "music" occurs mostly as it "plays" on instruments which convert random energy into filtered frequencies. However, the impulses producing this music are really still just a wild noisy purposeless energy.

The patterns I create as a designer have a different characteristic than what occurs in nature. Natural patterns are constrained only by the physical context and usually shows a statistical pattern. note Designed patterns are constrained by intelligent choices, and these choices are generally more specific than the actual limitations of the context. These designed patterns are highly improbable because they are based on functional information that was created from the intelligence of my mind. These informational patterns are evidence that my works have been created by me as a designer. note

Note that if an observer does not understand the constraints of a context, they might also be unlikely to recognize a designed pattern that is found inside the limitations of that context. For instance, a person that is skillful makes their work seem to be very easy and completely natural when in reality what they do may be very difficult and highly controlled. As an example, think of a skilled musician. Only someone that genuinely does understand the context would be able to discern what movements would be natural to any person and what ones come from long careful practice.

Similarly, an object that is extremely well designed can seem almost to be inevitable. However, that is an illusion. As an example, immediately after the first iPhone was introduced, almost all new designs that followed it emulated it (full touch screen). Before, there wasn’t anything like it (Blackberry, Palm: lots of buttons); however when iPhone appeared, the in-progress designs of the older style were mostly scrapped (see Android). These days it is very difficult to imagine any mobile device not like this iPhone pattern. The design now seems inevitable, but that is only because it was thoughtfully designed so well. And significantly, the job of designing something so very well like this is very, very difficult.

Similarly the designs of living systems are astoundingly good and effective. Humans might in time be able to come up with similar designs for a working life form, but that will never be an argument that life as we see it was inevitable on its own.

Truthfully we just don’t understand life well enough yet to explain how most of it works. Therefore, humans are still without authority to attribute living designs to natural causes. This is especially true since we only know living systems with designs that are astoundingly good. By chance occurrence (even with natural selection) this would be astoundingly rare. (See also The Probability of Life.) So it is a self-delusion to think life was physically inevitable.

For example, a river prefers to go down the middle of the channel, but a drop of water could be anywhere within the limits of the banks. Another way to think of this is the Gaussian distribution: natural things randomly go toward the middle, rarely go to the tails and the tails have a limited width in practice.

Design is the only explanation

Since humans are woefully inadequate to construct new life forms, we don’t even know the necessary requirements for the job. However, everything we do know shows that creating living systems would be incredibly complex, difficult, and exacting.

All natural law that we know at this time is at best indifferent to life, but usually it is toxic. We have no reason to think that other laws will be discovered that instead have an effect to promote and encourage life. Natural law simply does not make any life. And so therefore, the observed patterns of life don't represent the mindless constraints of natural laws.

The genetic code inside living things is highly complex; and it is functional for specific purposes. In uniform repeated human experience, this type of information never occurs naturally. Nature by itself can produce highly repeating patterns (low information content), or highly random patterns (highly randomized information), but natural laws never produce highly unlikely patterns that fulfill very narrow useful purposes (specified complex information). note However, all life that we have observed relies on highly specialized chemical and molecular engines that fulfill narrow specifications. There is actually not enough time and material in the history of the universe to encounter by chance most of the component parts of living systems. note And these individual parts also simply don't work if they aren't exactly right, all together, all at the same time. Since the evolution of even the parts of living things is impossible, then certainly the evolution of a whole life system is exponentially even more impossible in our universe.

Suggestions are often made that natural laws support biological self-organization, but this is simply a misleading play on words.

Nature can make random data, and it can make orderly repeating data, but there is no means by which the two can work together to make organized complex specified information out of the noise - no matter how the wording would imply such a thing. Life itself requires a deep collection of this specialized type of information, but such a thing has never been observed to occur naturally. Until the time any such mechanism could be actually observed and documented, this idea is unsupported conjecture and is not scientific.

For instance, the proteins functional to life are vanishingly rare among possible polymers of amino acids. These proteins of life are not based on repeating patterns and therefore could not be a product of natural laws. DNA has no preferred chemical order, therefore the functional DNA sequences in cells could not be a product of natural laws. So also then, specific proteins or genes that are seen to be repeated across many types of living things give no support to natural-law origins because again, natural law was always impotent make them. Life itself then is materialistically unnatural.

Design is the best explanation

Alternatively, life could have been designed by an intelligence. Life is completely based on encoded specified information (especially in the DNA), and the only process that we know of for producing this type of information is the work of intelligence, a mind.

Good designers reuse good designs in a variety of ways (like what we observe in living systems). Good designers include robust adaptive systems to gracefully handle unexpected environments (such as the systems we observe as epigenetics note). Good designers have a sense of aesthetics and embed that into their designs; they make beautiful things, and they make appreciation of the beauty be a part of the product. note

Evolution has no explanation for aesthetics such as is seen in nature: peacock feathers, sublime music, sunsets, etc.

Epigenetics are systems in living things that support rapid directed adaptation to unknown future situations (among other things). However, the Darwinian theory of evolution only explains undirected (random) biological change in the context of current situations. It cannot plan for an unknown future, therefore Darwinian evolution is impotent to produce or explain epigenetics.

An outside creative intelligent agent could explain the origin of life, and the related patterns of living things. However, materialistic science categorically rejects agent choice or agent action as causal explanations. Note that the explanation for the works that I produce is not from science, however, that does not mean that my agency is an invalid explanation for my own works. Likewise, scientific rejection of outside agency is unfortunate. For many cases in biology there is no other explanation that stands up to reason.

So, we live in a world that is full of life. The more we understand life, the more we understand how incredibly improbable it is. The existence of life and the existence of complex species of life cannot be explained from mechanistic random natural processes. The only remaining explanations for life origins are based in metaphysics and theology.

Atheistic Theology

I believe the theology of materialistic evolutionists comes directly from their (usually) atheistic perspective. Atheists ascribe no personality to any supernatural creator since they deny the existence of any creator god. Therefore they also deny that a hypothetical creator has any aesthetics. The god an atheist envisions is person-less, mindless, and capricious. note

The multiverse has been suggested to solve the “problem” of life evolution, but I believe it fails very badly. See The Multiverse God

Interestingly however, the imagined multiverse generator exactly fits the ideal of an atheist’s god (uninvolved, mechanistic, random). Use of this idea as an explanation then is clearly an atheistic god of the gaps argument. Atheists are no better than theists when trying to explain the unexplainable because they too are metaphysically motivated.

However, I just don’t see that an atheist has the standing to describe god, to define god or predict what god would do. But, do note that atheists have theological positions and that atheists are religiously driven.