If you walk up and down a pebbly beach, you will notice that the pebbles are not arranged at random. The smaller pebbles typically tend to be found in segregated zones running along the length of the beach, the larger ones in different zones or stripes. The pebbles have been sorted, arranged, selected. A tribe living near the shore might wonder at this evidence of sorting or arrangement in the world, and might develop a myth to account for it, perhaps attributing it to a Great Spirit in the sky with a tidy mind and a sense of order. We might five a superior smile at such a superstitious notion, and explain that the arranging was really done by blind forces of physics, in this case the action of waves. The waves have no purposes and no intentions, no tidy mind, no mind at all. They just energetically throw the pebbles around, and big pebbles and small pebbles respond differently to this treatment so they end up at different levels of the beach. A small amount of order has come out disorder, and no mind planned it.
The waves and the pebbles together constitute a simple example of a system that automatically generates non-randomness. The world is full of such systems. The simplest example I can think of is a hole. Only objects smaller than the hole can pass through it. This means that if you start with a random collection of objects above the hole, and some force shakes and jostles them about at random, after a while the objects above and below the hole will come to be non-randomly sorted. The space below the hole will tend to contain objects smaller than the hole, and the space above will tend to contain objects larger than a hole. Mankind has, of course, long exploited this simple principle for generating non-randomness in the useful device known as the sieve.
Simple sieving, on its own, is obviously nowhere near capable of generating the amount of order in a living thing. Sieving is an essential ingredient in the generation of living order, but it is very far from being the whole story. Something else is needed. To explain this point I shall need to make a distinction between ‘single-step’ selection and ‘cumulative’ selection. The simple sieves we have been considering so far are all examples of single-step selection. Living organization is the product of cumulative selection.
The essential difference beween single-step selection and cumulative selection is this: In single-step selection the entities selected or sorted, pebbles or whatever they are, are sorted once and for all. In cumulative selection, on the other hand, they ‘reproduce’; or in some other way the results of one sieving process are fed into a subsequent sieving , which is fed into…, and so on. The entities are subjected to selection or sorting over many ‘generations’ in succession. The end-product of one generation of selection is the starting point for the next generation of selection and so on for many generations.
Are sieves natural or do they have to be designed?
The sea-wave based pebble sorter discussed before is a natural ‘sieve’. Rivers dropping alluvium at the delta and bigger pebbles at its origin is another example for natural sieving. Obviously all the planets that we see orbiting the sun must be traveling at exactly the right speed to keep them in their orbits, or we wouldn’t see them there because they wouldn’t be there! But equally obviously, this is not evidence for conscious design. It is just another kind of natural sieve.
Artificial sieves exist too. The easiest are the sieves for sorting grains & powders. Anyone can think of many other examples.
What about evolution?
The big 200 hundred year old debate, and one that still keeps on going in the minds of theists, is whether cumulative selection in nature (a.k.a evolution) is designed by a creator. Before I go into that let me elaborate on the nature of artificial cumulative sieves/selectors. Artificial cumulative sieves (i.e. those that couldn’t just have happened by chance alone) often employ multiple criteria for sorting the entity. Take for instance, the coin sorters. Coin sorters are cumulative selectors often use multiple criteria like weight, diameter, electrical resistance etc. to sort a coin.
But non-living forces in nature on the other hand, do not have the ingenuity of a naturally evolved brain (which by the way is specialized, albeit by the criterion of evolution, for quick ingenuity without the need to wait for a chance) to come up up with multiple criteria, like that of a coin sorter, for selecting better organisms. In other words, using a single criterion for selection or sorting of a group of sortable entities is characteristic to a natural cumulative selector/sorter. And evolution has just that: one criterion – survival. And just because we only have one criterion which is normally characteristic to natural cumulative sorter, it cannot be proved, but it is very plausible that evolution is a natural phenomena with no designers hand involved.
What if I am wrong?
As I clearly mentioned I cannot prove whether a conscious designer’s hand was involved. All I can say is that a designer’s hand is almost impossible.
Let us assume that I am wrong. But an intelligent designer doesn’t just explain anything. As Richard Dawkins asks: If an intelligent designer was involved, who made the designer? St. Augustine came up with the biblical interpretation that God created time and thus is not bound by it, i.e. he did not have to come to existence, He was always there. I like to think that the belief system is just getting away with it. God does have something similar to time (see 2 Peter 3:8). I bet every other religion speaks of some kind of time in which God exists. “Believers” of string theory also speak of time-like higher dimensions – the 7th dimension. So “if” a designer was indeed involved, he did have to have a time (or a time like environment of one-way change in which he exists) in his past when he came into existence. Thus it begs for the question: Who made the designer, how did he come into existence? If one assumes, that the designer was designed by another designer.. it still begs more questions about how the designer’s designer came into existence.. and so on.
If there was a designer.. or a designer’s designer.. or the infinite regress of the resultant designers.. at some point in one of their pasts.. at least one designer must have come to existence through a natural designer-less cumulative selection similar to evolution.
This is where the scientific precept of Occam’s Razor sets things right & simple: Occam’s razor states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating, or “shaving off”, those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. In short, when given two equally valid explanations for a phenomenon, one should embrace the less complicated formulation. The principle is often expressed in Latin as the lex parsimoniae (law of succinctness):
entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem,
which translates to:
entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.
This is often paraphrased as “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.” In other words, when multiple competing theories are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selecting the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest hypothetical entities.
Thus if we had to choose between the infinite regress of designers who are the initial cause of everything OR the infinite regress of causes and effects with no consciousness we must by all means choose to “believe” in the version of existence with no designer, because a designer is a more complex initial cause. If I am wrong here, would mean that Occam’s Razor will also have to be wrong, but that means the whole of science would have to be wrong.