“Why do you believe God is a person?” Bob asked me this during a recent flight to San Francisco. He is a bright executive and a Tibetan Buddhist. Over the next two hours, we discussed five reasons I believe God is personal. Last week I unpacked the first reason, from the fact that the universe began. The second reason I shared was that the design we see in the world is best explained as the work of a creative Person.
While the first argument seeks the best explanation for the fact of the universe, this second (really set of arguments) seeks the best explanation for the form of the universe. What features of the universe cry out for an explanation? The Scriptures tell us these features are present—we just need to look for them. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1) and “[S]ince the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (Romans 1:20)
The argument that the biblical authors are alluding to may be summarized this way: Much in the universe appears to be designed. What is the best explanation for this apparent design? In other cases of things that seem to be designed we always find a designer is the cause. Therefore it is reasonable to believe there is also a designer behind the design we observe in the universe. And designers are always persons.
But is it true that much in the universe appears to be designed? I believe so. In fact, there is more than one type of apparent design which must be explained.
Order as Design
To begin with, there are many examples of order (spatial relations among parts that work together in specified ways to obtain an end) which seem to be cases of design. These are instances in which an aspect of creation is strikingly similar to a mechanical device. For instance, airplanes, automobiles, and accordions each have many parts, and they are all spatially ordered such that the parts work together toward the desired result (flight, driving, playing music). The best explanation for this ordering is that a designer drafted plans and assembled these parts in these ways to achieve these results. Of course, it is logically possible that impersonal forces caused these effects (a tornado may have gone through a junkyard and assembled the accordion), but this is not the best understanding of the data. The best explanation is that a person designed and constructed the accordion.
When we observe the universe, we see similar examples of design as order. Related to last week, in the Big Bang we find many finely-balanced “givens” (fundamental constants) that had to be just so for the universe to exist and expand at precisely the right rate. Examples are electromagnetic interaction, gravitation, the weak force, the strong force, and proton to electron mass ratio.
Once the universe formed, on the microscopic level we see this ordering in such thing as cells and bacteria. On the macroscopic level we see this in our bodies as unified wholes with many interrelated parts, as well as in larger ecosystems and in galaxies. As Voltaire, a famous atheist observed in a candid moment, “If a watch proves the existence of a watchmaker but the universe does not prove the existence of a great Architect, then I consent to be called a fool.”
Beauty as Design
The second type of design observed in the universe is beauty, which is best explained by an artist (a person), rather than an impersonal force. Consider a painting. There are two logically possible explanations for how it could come to be. It is possible that an earthquake rocked a paint store, and “The School of Athens” painting resulted. On the other hand, perhaps a person (Raphael) took paint and brush and meticulously created this magnificent work of art. Which is more probable? Given the beauty of the piece, it is more reasonable to believe a person is behind it. Notice that we don’t need to know who the artist is or anything else about the artist to know that there is an artist. Likewise, we must explain the beauty of the Brandenburg Concertos. It is logically possible that they came about as the result of ink randomly dripping on paper. But it is much more reasonable to believe it is the creation of a person, namely Johann Sebastian Bach.
There is similar beauty in the universe. No one can deny a sunset is exceptionally beautiful, or a flower, or the sound of a meadowlark, or the elegance of a nautilus shell. All these must be explained. Of course, it is logically possible that chance produced them all. But, as in the examples above, it is more reasonable to believe a person is behind each of them.
Information as Design
The third type of design is information. We observe many information-rich artifacts every day. For instance, consider this blog you are reading. There are many individual letters, ordered in specific ways (into words, sentences, paragraphs, and sections.) How can this be best explained? It is indeed logically possible that a (waterproof) laptop was left outside in a hailstorm and the hail produced the letters by randomly striking the keypad. However, just because this is logically possibility doesn’t make it the best explanation.
The “chance” explanation is more plausible in cases of very little information. For instance, it may be reasonable to believe a hailstorm could strike an laptop keyboard and produce the first three letters of this blog: “W”-“h”-“y”–words that contain information (that mean something). But the hailstorm explanation becomes less and less plausible as the information increases (as there are longer words, sentences, paragraphs, and sections, arranged in a logical sequence). The more information, the more reason to believe a person is behind the information. Since this blog contains quite a bit of information, you reasonably conclude there is an author behind it. (Furthermore, if you did discover this blog was somehow the result of a hailstorm, you would not believe anything said in it because the source was not a person, but arational forces.)
Or consider a radio talk show. It contains a series of tones structured in such a way as to convey information. There is the mere logical possibility the broadcast is the result of impersonal forces (random frequency disturbances). However, given the information contained this is not the most reasonable explanation. You rightly infer that the cause is a person, who spoke and then chose to broadcast her voice.
This is the assumption underlying the “SETI” (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life) program. The heavens are regularly scanned for any sequenced, non-repeating sounds, which are sure signs of intelligence. As those leading the project have observed, they just need to find one sign of information-carrying sound to know there is life (intelligence) “out there.”
Similarly, there are instances of information in the natural world. Consider DNA. It contains non-repetitive sequencing (as opposed to repetitive sequencing, such as the pattern made by waves on a seashore). This non-repetitive sequencing is what provides information, and is why we speak of DNA with linguistic terms. We call it the genetic code. We talk about it being transcribed into RNA, and RNA translated into proteins. In fact, the genetic code is identical to language, containing massive amounts of information. Nucleotides play the same role as letters do. Codons or triplets play the same role as words, genes play the same role as sentences, operons the same role as paragraphs, and chromosomes the same role as chapters. All these combine to produce living organisms, equivalent to books. In fact, the amount of information contained in our genetic code is similar in complexity and amount of information found in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Again, it is logically possible the massive amount of information in DNA came from an impersonal force. But the more reasonable explanation is that it came from a Person, as does all other information.
The Formal Argument
Formally this type of argument is known as the “teleological” argument (from the Greek word “telos”– end, purpose, or goal). It begins with observations of order, beauty, or information, and then seeks the best explanation for this fact via a “disjunctive syllogism” (the explanation is either A or B or C). As explanations are eliminated, one eventually comes to be the best explanation of the data.
Here is the formal argument, with further explanation in parenthesis:
1. There are clear cases of order, beauty, and information in the universe that must be explained (here we begin with common ground that all observe and stands in need of an explanation).
2. The explanation must be either physical law, chance, or design (the only three logical possibilities—A or B or C).
3. Law is not the best explanation. (There was no physical law before the universe began to cause the fundamental constants, and the laws of physics don’t adequately explain the other examples of order, beauty, or information. So A is eliminated.)
4. Therefore the explanation must be either chance or design. (B or C must be the answer: this logically follows from Premise 2 and 3.)
5. Chance is not the best explanation. (Though logically possible, it is not likely that chance could produce the order, design, or information we observe. So B is eliminated.)
6. Therefore the cause of the observed order, beauty, and information in the universe must be design. (The explanation must be C, given premises 2, 3, and 5.)
The evidence of design everywhere we look is so considerable that it is most reasonable to conclude a Grand Designer exists. This is the conclusion of many who study the intricacies of the universe. For instance, Allan Sandage, one of the world’s greatest observational cosmologists, came to faith in Christ at age 50. When asked how he reconciles being a scientist and a Christian he replied,
The world is too complicated in all its parts and interconnections to be due to chance alone. I am convinced that the existence of life with all its order in each of its organisms is simply too well put together.
Such a Grand Designer must be a person. In all other cases of design (airplanes, paintings, musical compositions) there is always a person behind the design. Therefore it is most reasonable to infer a Person is also behind the order, beauty, and information we find in the natural world.
Formally stated, the argument above would be extended in this way:
7. Only persons cause design. (Forces don’t design things. People design things.)
8. Therefore the cause of the design in the universe must be a Person.
This is a second strong reason to believe God is a person, as Theism teaches, and not a force, as Buddhism and other pantheistic views teach.
Next week I’ll share the third reason I offered to believe God is a Person, and not a force. Until then, grace and peace.
For further reading I suggest Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, Chapter 24: “The Existence of God II.” For a longer discussion see Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Also visit Dr. Peter Kreeft’s website for a more detailed argument. (Dr. Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College, author of 75 books, and careful thinker about this and related topics.)