The argument of design has several features, keying on relative complexity and tuning for use, from which one infers a designer. If we find a sand castle on a "simple" beach, which had an unusual degree of structure, and operating drawbridge and gates, its relative complexity, plus tuning for an apparent use, would lead us to infer a designer. Paley's watch, and a 747, have been prior prototypical examples of reason to infer design. But these human creations are far less complex than what we see surrounding us such as the human body or the web of life. If a far simpler object such as a robot can reasonably be inferred to not be a product of UNINFLUENCED natural phenomena, then would not something as complex and tuned as a human likewise be reasonably inferred not to be the product of natural events? Likewise, our universe appears to be remarkable in its tuning to produce life. Both of these inferences imply an intelligent creator! So what is the alternative? How do those who reject design like Richard Dawkins rebut the argument of design?

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    "Clearly if a far simpler object such as a robot cannot be a product of UNINFLUENCED natural phenomena". Why not? Just give it a planet and 4.5 billion years, which is what evolution had for humans. Much less time for earthworms that robots are closer to. This seems to be based on unsurprising lack of human imagination over ranges and time spans far greater than in ordinary human experience.
    – Conifold
    Apr 18, 2020 at 8:36
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    Humans are neither frozen artifacts nor accidental, they come with a planet and a paleontological history. The problem is that the premises you need to make this argument remotely plausible are expressly false in the case you want to apply it to.
    – Conifold
    Apr 18, 2020 at 12:24
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    @Bismuthortsa Mutations, recombination of genes during reproduction are all phenomena that do not happen in aircrafts. They happen in evolution though and evolution is purely guided by natural phenomena, no intelligent design needed in 4.5 billion years.
    – user34482
    Apr 18, 2020 at 13:48
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    @Bismuthortsa Comments on this website are not for debates, so I'll try to be as concise and comprehensive as possible. The verb "guiding" in a general sense means "driven by something", after that I said "natural phenomena", they're not intelligent as much as gravity isn't. "You have to agree that there is a selective Choice necessary to narrow down millions of events to a single event" That's exacly what natural selection does, and there's no intelligent "selector" behind it.
    – user34482
    Apr 18, 2020 at 16:09
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    Not accidental does not equal intended by a designer. Stars are not accidental either, they form according to natural laws.
    – Conifold
    Apr 18, 2020 at 21:04

5 Answers 5


What makes the argument of intelligent design unable to stand on its own legs is that simplicity and efficiency, are hints of design, not complexity. The useless complexity of living forms, the flaws in their body are all hints at a natural, trial and error type of development.

A common example is the incredibly bad design of the human eye: photoreceptors are mounted inward, opposite to the side the light is coming, greatly reducing their efficiency. The optical nerve creates a blind spot that could have been avoided, and a significant part of the brain is dedicated to process this mess that wasn't necessary in the first place.

Some fishes, like squids, don't have this flaw, which shows that a better design was possible in the first place. Why not apply the best design to every creature ?

Compare with a watch, within which each piece has a well defined goal, is tailored precisely to accomplish this goal and nothing more with the least possible amount of material.

Anything more than a very superficial look at biology hints that life is not designed, or if there is a designer, it is not very intelligent.

Therefore a simple defence against the argument of design is to reject the premise that life appears to be designed.


The question is a little problematic because Atheism is a position on a single question. If you believe that a god exists then you are a theist, if you don't, your an atheist. Atheism has no dogma and makes no proclamations of any kind. Thus it needs no defence against arguments of design.

Also, having to defend Richard Dawkins is a little weird. I can try and explain what I think he meant though.

Now to the question itself, if complexity requires a designer, then the mind of the designer requires a designer. So all you get is an infinite regress that doesn't actually explain anything. Because if you start by saying that everything other than god requires a designer, then you are already begging what you are actually trying to prove. Which is by definition, circular.

In addition, we do not recognise design by complexity. We recognize it by contrasting it with the natural world and especially with things that arise naturally. Lastly, a lever is by no means a complex machine, but it's definitely designed and used by humans (and by a few other animals as I recently saw on the discovery channel).

  • This argument is subject to presupposition failure; that every object needs a creator. Could you prove that this statement is necessary? For rigor, consider the skeptic stance and consider your proposition to be contingent, then construct a formal method of testing to distinguish between the two cases.
    – Joeseph123
    Jun 10, 2020 at 20:16
  • @Joeseph123: Then you apply Occam's razor: If something doesn't need a creator, why should that something be God? Why not the universe itself? That lets you eliminate an unnecessary assumption.
    – Kevin
    Jun 10, 2020 at 20:26
  • We do not need to assume a simplification; a simplification such as Occam's razor is conventional, and is by no means a law of nature. Sure it is sometimes convenient in science, but not always applicable, or more accurately, a simplification is generally not "inherently" true.
    – Joeseph123
    Jun 10, 2020 at 20:28
  • Could you prove that our universe doesn't need a creator?
    – Joeseph123
    Jun 10, 2020 at 20:32
  • @Joeseph123 - The issue is whether anyone can prove that the universe does need a creator
    – Ted
    Jun 11, 2020 at 7:11

You have mis-stated the Argument From Design. It is only weakly based on complexity, but instead is based on intentionality. If an object is most validly explained as a product of intentional design, then there is good reason from the existence of that object to infer a designer.

Complexity is only relevant in that it triggers a search for the understanding of the source of that complexity, because most things made by natural processes are not very complex. SOME objects we know are designed (baseball bat for example) ARE simple, and SOME natural objects are complex (see snowflakes) so simple/complex is only an indicator/trigger, not the actual condition that leads to a design inference.

The inference to design is a legitimate scientific reasoning process, and is a key feature of anthropology, criminology & forensic pathology and the SETI program.

Paley's Watch was a complex object, featuring aspects NOT found naturally at least in our experience (toothed gears, assembled movements, etc), but which ARE found in our intentionally constructed objects. Therefore, his inference that the watch was designed is entirely justified.

Life -- we don't have examples of it being designed, so the inference to a designer is far weaker. And -- there are so many oddities in life that don't fit with an intelligent design (viruses, poor organ/chemistry design elements, overpopulation/famine cycle for ecosystems etc), that design is -- suspect. When another mechanism was discovered -- natural selection -- which over sufficient time produces "designed like" features for any inherited property subject to variation and selection, then the inference to design for most features of life -- is no longer credible.

There remain three areas where an appeal to design may still be valid. The APPEARANCE of life has not been shown to be possible despite 3/4 of a century of abiogenesis research (see Freeman Dyson's The Origins of Life for a good discussion). The apparent purposefullness of evolution to create morality and reasoning implies design to Thomas Nagel (see Mind and Cosmos). And the Fine Tuning features of our universe (each of something like 30 parameters have to be in logically independent unlikely ranges for any kind of Life [not limited to organic carbon/water life] to be viable anywhere in a universe) make its intentionality for Life a plausible explanation.

The Fine Tuning argument is the strongest of these three, and has sparked a lot of speculation about natural mechanisms that could produce Apparent Fine Tuning. The current popularity of Multiverse hypotheses among cosmologists and lay people alike is because this provides a possible alternate method to arrive at Near Fine Tuning, by extending the timeline of a metaverse, generating variance, and then selecting from that variance. As an alternate explanation for Fine Tuning, it is logically possible. There has been a lot of push-back, however, from scientists and philosophers of science who point out that Multiverse plus selection is unsupported, and more importantly is UNTESTABLE (and therefore "not even wrong" as a science claim). Theist theologians can also point out that it is also an astonishingly complex hypothesis, which relies upon infinities. Complexity, untestability, and infinities used to be pointed out by non-theists as major weaknesses of theism.

Non-theists can point in each case to similar non-optimizations in these three areas as was seen for life. In Fine Tuning, our universe may be very unlikely, but it isn't anywhere close to well designed for life. In emergence of life the lateness and very local nature of that emergence suggests that life would be more of an afterthought than an original intention. And for morality and reasoning, the afterthought is even more pronounced, as reasoning took 4 more billion years to manifest, and is not present in most of life. There are therefore major weaknesses to an inference to design for each of these areas -- and the flaws in non-design explanations offered to date do not therefore lead to a justified default acceptance of a design explanation.

The possibility of our universe having been designed, to produce life, moral value, or intelligence, is therefore currently an open question.

  • I don't think the question mis-stated anything; rather most of your post is irrelevant to what the the author believes. This user believes like most creationists that humans were spawned into existence and this is totally not true.
    – Cell
    May 26, 2020 at 18:35
  • The Argument from Design is a potentially valid justification to accept theism. That this poster may believe in a specific version of theism independent of arguments and facts -- is itself irrelevant to the appropriateness of the Argument from Design, and the INappropriateness of how the poster described it. You are engaged in an ad hominem fallacy, and a tangential argument. Actually answering the valid part of the question, RATHER than ad hominem attacks on a poster's background rationale for posing it, is what this site is for.
    – Dcleve
    May 26, 2020 at 19:56
  • Your whole post is based on the fact the author used the phrase "argument from design" incorrectly, which according to you has some esoteric meaning in philosophy. A simple google search on "intelligent design human creationism" would show you that the question is actually quite common. Instead you reinterpreted the question and answered your own discussion.
    – Cell
    May 26, 2020 at 20:24
  • There is no "ad hominem" attack here. I simply downvoted your answer and gave a reason why as per the site suggestion.
    – Cell
    May 26, 2020 at 20:25
  • The point of this discussion is for advice or comment on my answer to the question, and your advice was that I should NOT have answered the question, but instead critiqued the question asker, under the presumption that the question asker is a "Creationist" whose views are based on points that are "totally not true". That would constitute an ad hominem attack on the asker, not an answer to a question, which is what Phil SE is supposed to provide.
    – Dcleve
    May 27, 2020 at 21:45

The best way to know how Dawkins responds would be to read his book The God Delusion. As probably the most militant of the New Atheists, his argument is spelled out absolutely clearly. Part of his argument is to explain what science is and why intelligent design (ID) gets it wrong, particularly in Chapter 4, "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God".

The argument you seem to be making is the idea that because human devices, such as a Boeing 747, are less complex than the human body, that it stands to reason that someone must be responsible for its design and construction in the same way a Boeing 747 wouldn't spontaneously evolve from the side of a mountain. This is a fair question, but to understand the response, it's hard to understand if you don't understand some key tenets of physics, chemistry, and mathematics. Even the famous Fred Hoyle who was very sophisticated mathematically and scientifically got it wrong, according to Dawkins.

Many of these specious arguments leveled in the pseudoscience of ID misunderstand the philosophical basis of probability and thermodynamics. Let's start with a simple example.

The phenomenon of the snowflake is familiar and well-understood. One could ask, how does a snowflake at the North Pole know how to become six-sided when it can't directly interact with a snowflake in the South Pole? And how does it go from a highly disorder mass of liquid water to a highly complex and ordered solid structure? Surely, it's more complicated than the simple art of children! We must conclude that a crystal of that complexity must have had an unseen artist. But, proper knowledge of thermodynamics and molecular geometry explains how systems move from lower complexity to higher complexity independent of intentionality.

First, under certain environmental circumstances, when a system suffers a net loss of order, parts of it can actually become more ordered in a move towards establishing dynamic equilibrium. This is called negative entropy. For instance, as water cools, the hydrogen bonds begin to play a role in forming a rigid molecule. In fact, the geometry of a snowflake is related to the tetrahedral shape of H20. This is vastly simplified but is a scientific fact.

So, clearly, if it is a fact that water and oxygen can spontaneously order itself, then other molecules follow. We arrive at Miller-Urey which shows that negative entropy exists for the organic molecules which are the basis of life. This sets the stage for abiogenesis, the origins of life from inanimate matter. From there, onto nucleic acids, likely RNA, which self-replicate and micelles which foreshadow cellular walls. It's not much of a stretch to get simple biological organisms of archaea from there.

And of course, natural selection explains nicely and neatly how random deviations in genetic material from genetic drift and other causes can continue the accumulation of biological structure resulting in very sophisticated anatomical and physiological elements. There are gaps in our knowledge, but those gaps continue to shrink and practitioners of artificial life have already engineered artificial genes de novo.

Ultimately, in skepticism, the burden of proof is put on the claimant, and so really the question is a debate of metaphysical positions. If one claims that there is supernaturalism, magical beings like gods and angels who can cast spells and defy physics, then the claimants must provide proof, and there is no scientific proof of such beings that can't better be explained by naturalism. So, those pre-Socratics who rejected the gods as myth and superfluous to the world have been validated by science, which offers better explanations for the nature of mythology by way of anthropomorphism and other aspects of evolutionary psychology.

  • JD -- good reply, except for the last paragraph, where pretty much every assertion in it is invalid. 1) Burden of proof on a "claimant" is merely a DEBATE protocol -- it is not how questions of fact are resolved. All positions relative to a fact issue have a "burden of proof". 2) Supernatural is equivocated between "spirit" and "beyond investigation" in your link. It is only Wikipedia, so fallacies are unfortunately common. 3) Your naturalism link noted that methodological naturalism, IE investigate by the tools of reasoning and empiricism, is the more useful/general usage - but not yours
    – Dcleve
    May 26, 2020 at 17:09
  • Also -- the field of abiogenesis ever since Miller-Urey has been one dead end after another. No -- getting to RNA from Miller-Urey -- has not been demonstrated to be possible. Instead, more and more exotic scenarios have been proposed as the most simple/common ones have been ruled out by experiment. AND -- getting to a protocell from either proteins OR RNA -- is still a massive hurdle. See Dyson's The Origins of Life for a good discussion of the problems that abiogenesis still faces.
    – Dcleve
    May 26, 2020 at 17:16
  • The strength of scientific testimony is not that it is not susceptible to flaws, but that it is and recognizes itself. Hence, the testimony of the scientist IS built on claims that met the burden of proof for each and every claim. Those vetted claims become theory, and thus we afford theory the imperfect, but dominant position to which challengers must first overcome. Thus onus probandi makes the culture of science more reliable than that of Philosophers and Mystics.
    – J D
    May 27, 2020 at 17:03
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    There is a major flaw in your argument; you are considering Physicalism to be necessary also without proof. Why can't physicalism be contingent? How can I distinguish between the two? A complete argument MUST consider an empirical method to either Prove or Disprove the ontological argument - both cases must be subject to question, without jumping to conclusions.
    – Joeseph123
    Jun 10, 2020 at 20:12
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    You needn't disprove anything my imagination creates? How is that helpful exactly? You are clearly misusing my posited "physical contingency." By physical contingency I am referring to the existence of the physical realm itself as contingent, not the laws it entails. Yes we exist, but that does not constrain the larger metaphysical realm to necessarily yield us and our universe.
    – Joeseph123
    Jun 11, 2020 at 10:59

The problem with intelligent design — and please note that I'm neither a theist nor an atheist, so I don't really have a dog in this fight — is that it has a '+1' issue. Intelligent design tries to take a middle road, allowing for all of the findings of evolution science on the assertion that some divine intelligence designed it to be so. But if some designer designed the universe to behave in the systematic, law-like manner that evolution presupposes — species evolving blindly to achieve the current world that the designer ostensibly envisioned — then what actual purpose does such a designer have? The designer is a definite '+1'; the universe would behave exactly the same way with or without a designer. Further, assuming that there is some designer, what makes us (in our temerity) assume that we are the ultimate outcome? How do we know that the design doesn't involve us wiping ourselves out so that a far more intelligent and wiser species of parakeets, octopi, or roaches — the true design the designer was reaching for — will come to ascendency. The ID argument is largely self-defeating.

I'm not averse to ID: with a little squinting it starts to look like some Eastern philosophy (karmic or daoist principles of nature). But the more 'intelligent' one presumes that designer is, the less that intelligence seems to matter in the big picture.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    May 23, 2020 at 12:47
  • "the universe would behave exactly the same way with or without a designer" - it would if it existed in the first place. The irreducible role of the designer is clearly as the creator of those rules and principles that govern an orderly world. I'm really not convinced that there is any rational defence against such assertions - science and religion are really ideologies, and the power struggle continues mainly because religion performs functions in the realm of social organisation that science does not (indeed, the "social sciences" are often held in low regard by scientists).
    – Steve
    Jun 12, 2020 at 11:04

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