May 02, 2008
The end of god-3: The death of the Ultimate Creator God
(For previous posts in this series, see here.)
In the previous post, we saw that the idea of the Personal God was dead on the grounds that believing in such a god required one to abandon rationality and the God of the Gaps was dead on the grounds that advances in science have successively closed so many of the gaps that believing in such a god has become somewhat of an embarrassing exercise, requiring one to find refuge in a new gap whenever an old one gets explained by science. The decreasing number of credible gaps has resulted in most religious apologists abandoning this god as unworkable.
This left only the Ultimate Creator God, with its underlying assumption that complex things required a more complex creator, as a viable hypothesis.
Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, arriving in the mid-nineteenth century, was the first major scientific theory that destroyed the need for both the God of the Gaps and an Ultimate Creator God when it came to life's complex systems. In its more modern form of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, which incorporates genetics and molecular biology into natural selection, this theory shows that once a replicator that is capable of reproducing or copying itself with fairly high fidelity using the raw materials available to it in its environment comes into being, however simple and primitive it might be, it will be inexorably driven by the laws of natural selection to ever more complex forms of replicators (the DNA molecule being one example of a complex replicator), eventually resulting in the complexity and diversity of life that we now see all around us. (See Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene for a clear explanation of how that happens.)
Thus with the arrival of Darwin's theory, it was possible to understand how life systems could evolve from simple forms to more complex forms under the dynamic of natural laws. This dealt a serious blow to the Ultimate Creator God.
This major advance in our ability to understand the existence of life's complexity and diversity without invoking a designer was followed by modern cosmological theories, developed in the mid-twentieth century, that have shown a similar process at work in the non-living world. We are now beginning to understand how a universe that began as a simple soup of quarks and gluons became, over time and under the influence of natural laws, the vast and complex universe of stars and galaxies that we now have. This growth from simplicity to complexity was again driven by purely natural laws acting on purely material elements without any need to invoke some kind of external intelligence supervising and managing the process.
I am by no means asserting that every question concerning life and the universe has been answered. What I am saying is that we now have powerful new theories that are evidence-based and provide a framework for investigating and ultimately answering the fundamental question of how complexity can arise.
Thus the modern twin theories of the neo-Darwinian synthesis and big-bang cosmology are now available to convincingly destroy the chief argument of religious apologists for the existence of the Ultimate Creator God, that there was no credible alternative to postulating that there needed to be an ultimate creator to bring about complexity
This is knowledge that earlier atheist philosophers did not have but could only hope to one day attain. As Richard Dawkins said, "An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." (The Blind Watchmaker, page 6)
Hume's hope has now become reality. We now have very good scientific explanations for such questions and it is the scientists among the new atheists, such as Dawkins in the field of biology, Victor Stenger in the field of physics and cosmology, and Daniel Dennett in the fields of the mind and consciousness that have made the case for the death of the Ultimate Creator God most forcefully.
Of course, it has to be conceded that religious believers can still claim that since science has not as yet convincingly demonstrated how the big bang or how the very first primitive replicator came about (although some speculative solutions have been proposed for both those problems), that it is at least logically possible to attribute these two things to a god. So in a sense, scientific developments have forced religious apologists into a corner and required them to merge the God of the Gaps and the Ultimate Creator God into one, into a kind of God of the Ultimate Gaps, this god serving purely as a sterile answer to questions about the origin of the universe and the origin of life.
This God of the Ultimate Gaps is one who has acted only twice in the entire history of our universe, the first time to start the universe and the second and last time to create the first replicator, before handing in his retirement papers for good. While religious believers can claim, if they wish, that such a limited-action god is logically possible, such an austere and remote god is a far cry from the chummy Personal God favored by most religious believers. Trying to bridge the gap between the God of the Ultimate Gaps favored by sophisticated theologians and the Personal God favored by the general public has been a thorny problem for the religious community.
The plain fact is that science, while it cannot totally eliminate god as a logical possibility, has for all intents and purposes made god redundant.
Next: The end of god due to other causes
POST SCRIPT: Baxter, the Wonder Dog
Ok, so Baxter may not actually be a wonder dog, but he is still a terrific one. He is now two and a half years old.