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Designer Jeans, Designer God

Fourth in a series on the search for meaning in a world that doesn't believe in it.

by Everett Wilson
January 6, 2005

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I buy my jeans at large discount chains at less than half the price of "designer jeans." Designer jeans are not jeans that design, but denim trousers that carry the imprint of the famous person who designed them. He made them the way he wanted. To borrow the concept, a "designer god" is not a god who designs but a god who is designed - perhaps by a famous name but very often by a community or an individual. The god becomes the product of human imagination. In The Machine Stops, E. M. Forster said that the human race made God in its own image.
 
We have a long way to go before we posit the existence of God in a way that will satisfy those secularists who are willing even to discuss it. One reason it is taking so long (though we haven't reached three thousand words yet) is that I am trying to avoid making a leap of faith, at least until all realistic alternatives are eliminated. Leaps of faith are legitimate when acknowledged as such, but not when they pretend to be sound conclusions based on evidence.
 
At a 1950 meeting of the Socratic Club at Oxford, when Antony Flew was  in his twenties, he read a brief paper entitled "Theology and Falsification." His statement was accepted for decades as a persuasive argument for atheism, at least by those already disposed toward it. For those disposed  against it, Flew  granted the futility of his argument. "Now it often seems to people who are not religious as if there was no conceivable event or series of events the occurrence of which would be admitted by sophisticated religious people to be a sufficient reason for conceding 'there wasn't a God after all'" or "'God does not really love us then.'"
 
Now, at the age of 81, Flew has posited belief in some kind of god.  In an   article by Richard Ostling, AP religion writer, Flew is quoted as saying that a super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature. This conclusion is based on scientific evidence alone. Flew grants, "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."
 
So far, so good. Then, after being so careful, he takes a leap of faith in order to design this god according to his own specifications - declaring that the super-intelligence is not  "actively involved in people's lives." The leap is so subtle that the reader may suppose that it logically follows from his conclusion "based on scientific evidence alone," but it doesn't. Instead, God the designer becomes god the designed.
 
We cannot know from the scientific evidence just how super a super-intelligence might be. The evidence reflects the limitations of nature and cannot comprehend  the terms on which a super-intelligence would operate. On the basis of the same evidence and in contrast to Flew's leap of faith, billions leap the other way  to the conclusion that a super-intelligence may be super enough to do whatever it wants, including "active involvement in people's lives." If a super-intelligence is smart enough and powerful enough to design the universe, all bets are off as to what it can or cannot do. This is a possibility, not a proof - a statement of faith like Flew's, inferred from nature.
 
We are free to believe that God exists and equally free to believe that he doesn't. It reminds me of Bishop Pike's response to the person who said, "I don't believe in God." Pike answered, "Tell me about the God you don't believe in. Maybe I don't believe in him either.' What we are not intellectually free to do is design God according to our preferences.

All Installments of this Series:
1. The Possible Possibility, 10/2/2004
2. The Legitimately Weird, 10/16/2004
3. Nature and Supernature, 11/29/2004
4. Designer Jeans, Designer God, 1/6/2005
5. What Mathematical Certainty?, 2/2/2005
6. Credible, Not Verifiable, 2/28/2005
7. The God of Ultimate Meaning, 2/28/2005
8. Dialogue with a Postmodern Nephew, 5/11/2005 
9. Why the Bible?, 5/21/2005
10. Why Jesus?, 6/4/2005

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