The Watchmaker Argument For God
One of the arguments for the existence of God is nature itself. The fact that we have eyes, lungs, brains, organs and a functioning body. We look in awe and wonder at our bodies and the universe and say “There must be a God”. By looking at the evidence we will see that it does not appear like it was “designed” at all but rather it was shaped by the forces of natural selection in an all out war for survival between different species of plants and animals.
The Teleological argument (also known as the Watchmaker analogy or sometimes as Intelligent Design) claims that if you would see a watch, you would know there is a designer. In the same way when you look at nature and most specifically, the complexity of us human beings, you can assume there is a designer because it’s like the watch.
In this article, I am not going to be addressing abiogenesis, which is how life first came about. As far as we know, from the muddy primordial soup that existed on the early Earth, something sparked life to start. It started as RNA, then DNA which is the basis of all life. Scientists in 2009 were able to replicate recreating RNA per conditions they thought resembled early Earth, and research is still ongoing to simulate the creation of DNA. There are other possibilities as well, that life originated outside Earth and came to Earth on an asteroid.
In fact, we have found creatures (Tardigrades) that can survive in the depths of space. This doesn’t solve the question but changes the conditions.
We have to be honest that there is also the possibility that there was a deity involved who created life. This is one possibility. But this does not mean that any of the world religions are true. They could still all be false. This entity may or may not have a personality and may not have interacted with humanity whatsoever (a concept known as deism). This creator may even be described as a force rather than a personal God. In order to move past deism and see if particular God idea is true (say Jehovah or Allah), we must observe its holy books and claims.
The first issue with this argument is evolution.
Evolution destroys this argument. The process of evolution which has refined us and shaped us over billions of years by the process of natural selection is probably the biggest argument against the watchmaker analogy. There is so much evidence for evolution. As of now, we understand evolution very well and we no longer need to rely on “intelligent design.”
To understand the following points, you need to understand some basics about evolution (natural selection and random mutation).
Random mutation occurs in DNA. These are either from the environment or they are during the copying process when it replicates it doesn’t copy perfectly. They are one way that an organism changes over time. When a child is born, he or she gets half of his chromosomes from his mother and half from his father. The combination of DNA results in a change to the child. If there is any small advantage to any of the children, it means its DNA will be more likely to be passed on to the next generation. Over time, this shapes a population by selecting for certain features. This 11-minute video explains it well. Understanding this simple idea is vital before reading this article.
If we are arguing that humans and by extension the universe is intelligently designed why do we see the following?
Ask yourself when you read this: Am I seeing something that was designed intentionally, or does this seem more like the blind emotionless force of nature shaping it?
Why are there flaws in our design?
Why would God design our eyes to have a blind spot? Find your blind spot here. If we compare the human body to a car, and the car had a flaw in it, whether small or big, we would wonder about the all-powerful all-wise designer. The blind spot in cars is a flaw of the design. Now with technology some cars remove the blind spot by using cameras.
In the small, round area where the optic nerve meets the retina, there are no rods or cones. If light from an object lands on this spot, the image is essentially invisible. This area is called the optic disk, or the blind spot. In effect, it’s a black hole in the retina’s projection screen.
This missing area in the field of vision is not normally noticeable. The brain fills this blind spot with the colors and patterns of the objects surrounding environment. It uses information received fractions of a second prior from a different distance or angle and what the opposite eye sees to create a complete, uninterrupted picture.
Not all animals have blind spots. This is not a universal issue. It’s a by-product of how we evolved that we have a blind spot.
In vertebrate eyes, the nerve fibers route before the retina, blocking some light and creating a blind spot where the fibers pass through the retina and out of the eye. In octopus’s eyes, the nerve fibers route behind the retina, and do not block light or disrupt the retina. The cephalopod eye is “wired” in the opposite direction, with blood and nerve vessels entering from the back of the retina, rather than the front as in vertebrates. This means that cephalopods do not have a blind spot
Some parts of nature seem to be without purpose — nipples on a man for example. Did God just make nipples on men as an erogenous zone? As I was told, male nipples can be stimulated for sexual pleasure but I haven’t looked into this! Evolution can explain this just fine, if body parts give an advantage or they had an advantage at some point in the past, they will remain unless selected against (i.e. causing harm and reducing the chance of survival and reproduction).
By seeing the variety of eyes in nature, we can understand that they are the product of shaping by the environment and gradual improvements. There is no all-powerful deity sitting up there thinking “hmmm, let me design humans with a blind spot.”
God seems to make a lot of mistakes
Certain body parts prone to cancer like prostate glands and breasts.
Umbilical cord can choke babies, and amniotic bands that can occur inside the womb due to potential partial rupture of amniotic sac can dismember fetuses.
Many babies get stuck in birth canal and need medical intervention to save them.
For example, many years ago, my wife had an ectopic pregnancy. It means our baby was in the fallopian tube. Ectopic pregnancies are life threatening. The baby must be removed right away or it can cause the mom to die.
Ectopic pregnancy is the most common cause of pregnancy-related deaths in the first trimester of pregnancy. There are more than 40 deaths per year in the United States. It accounts for about 10% of all pregnancy-related deaths. However, the number of deaths per ectopic pregnancy is decreasing dramatically because of earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Saved by medical intervention.
Another example — Have you ever seen how large babies’ heads are? Before medical forceps and C-Sections, how many women would die during labour?
Perhaps the first written record we have of a mother and baby surviving a caesarean section comes from Switzerland in 1500 when a sow gelder, Jacob Nufer, performed the operation on his wife. After several days in labor and help from thirteen midwives, the woman was unable to deliver her baby.
Just look at the example of Rh disease. How mere incompatibility in blood type between a husband and wife causes wife’s immune system to attack all subsequent fetuses after exposure to the blood from the first borne? Medical intervention is required to allow subsequent pregnancies to succeed.
There are several conditions that also lead to autoimmune related pregnancy loss such as endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome. These all require medical intervention that has been developed only recently, prior to which miscarriages for women affected was the norm. No amount of prayers could save pregnancies in such women.
Hagar in the stories of the revealed texts and Zacharias’ wife, we were told were given a child despite advanced age and infertility except in practice medical intervention has been shown to work a lot more than any amount of prayer or piety.
Evolution would have done better to deliver the baby straight through the tummy. But alas it can’t start over, it can only work with minuscule gradual changes on an existing organism. It can’t redesign from scratch, it has to work with what it has.
I always used to wonder as a kid why God made people be able to choke and die so easily. On something small like a peanut. It seems like a severe flaw yet again.
In regions where malaria is common, people tend to get a certain gene that gives them immunity to this disease. When both parents have this gene though, the result can be terrible for their offspring — they get sickle cell anemia. By the parents getting the resistance and by how DNA is copied to offspring and the fact that the two combined genes result in a harmful gene in the child.
Signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease usually begin in early childhood. Characteristic features of this disorder include a low number of red blood cells (anemia), repeated infections, and periodic episodes of pain. The severity of symptoms varies from person to person. Some people have mild symptoms, while others are frequently hospitalized for more serious complications.
Again we are left wondering, did God intentionally design life to lead to children getting a genetic flaw due to their parents’ immunity to a disease? It is mind-boggling to imagine a God would intentionally make things this way. This leads into the problem of evil. Why would a merciful God build the world with so much suffering in it? But this is a different argument.
Why do animals have to eat meat and harm other animals to survive?
As my friend Hassan Radwan said,
God started with a blank page. He decided that he’d create creatures that need to bite, chew & digest stuff to stay alive. He then decided that what they need to bite, chew and digest is each other. It seems twisted to me. If I had unlimited powers and I was going to create a world of creatures I definitely wouldn’t make them die if they don’t eat each other.
Animals tear apart other animals alive in the most brutal of ways. Most of the time there is no anesthetic for them while they get eaten. They simply suffer it through. And they suffer a lot. People with pets understand all too well that animals feel pain and have feelings too.
Vitamin B12 must be acquired from flesh of other animals by many mammals, including humans. It is essential to our development. We require consumption of animal flesh to thrive. There are many inefficiencies in a purely vegan diet.
Darwin who himself believed in God noticed this and found a problem with this idea:
I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae (Parasite wasps) with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. — Charles Darwin
Some mating rituals of animals are also equally disturbing.
The male bedbug inserts his sperm by the method of “traumatic insertion” where he stabs the female in the stomach and the sperm travels through the female’s blood stream into sperm receptacles and eventually into her ovaries.
With seals, the males forcibly rape the baby cubs and sometimes even crush her to death.
Male lions who take over a pride will kill all the cubs from the previous father. There are example after example of violence and cruelty in nature. Are we to believe a merciful God designed the world in this manner?
This is the typical response to these arguments:
- It’s a test
- We don’t know why God did it
- Atheists are arrogant
- It’s a test
The world is cruel, ridiculous, impractical, and contrary to life. A flawed, cruel world implies a flawed or cruel creator. If you believe a God intelligently designed us this way, then you must explain why God would build in these cruel and disturbing realities of our life. There is no creator designing such a cruel system. These examples came about by the process of evolution. Evolution is the blind watchmaker. The process leads to some disturbing and painful realities in life. In the past, we used religious myth to explain things (i.e. the pain of childbirth is because of Eve disobeying her husband) but now today we know better, that the blind emotionless force of evolution shaped us to be what we are.