I got a candid question from a reader named Jon:
“I’m curious on how you can see “design” in nature, based on your logic.
How does this line of reasoning explain pain, suffering and natural disasters?
Why design a world that is constantly cooling and erupting with violent events that kill millions of innocent people?
What about our fear of pain and death? If God was real, then he has no fear of death or pain and yet he created beings that must suffer this fate. What does that say about him?
Also, the problem of evil. Where did that come from?
If the universe was “designed” then how do you explain these very real things we deal with?
And I know you are a Christian so I can only assume you will give me a Christian answer to these problems. But since you are a big proponent of logic and reason, please try and answer these using those tools, instead of faith.”
The first thing I’d like to say is: I think this question is the REAL reason people doubt that the universe is designed. In short: “If an omniscient powerful being created the world, then why is it so pathetic and dysfunctional?”
It’s a worthwhile question.
In keeping with the rest of this site, I’m going to answer the question in terms of Information Theory. Reason and logic, as requested.
First, allow me to point out that this is a moral question not a scientific one. To even ask the question is to assume that moral questions are valid. The very fact that we ask these questions at least suggests that valid answers exist.
All moral questions are questions of intent. The reason that communication theory can address this question is that it does deal with intent. The other branches of science do not.
Bear with me for a minute while I define a few things.
Communication theory universally recognizes four layers:
- The first layer is statistics. Statistics says: In English, the letter “e” appears 13% of the time and the letter “q” appears 0.1% of the time. Statistics recognizes predictable mathematical patterns in the language.
- The second layer is syntax. Syntax is the mechanical rules of the language. Letters and words appear in very specific patterns: I before E except after C; U almost always follows Q. Words are always made of specific letters. “She is sleeping” is a statement and “is she sleeping” is a question. Essentially, it’s spelling and grammar.
- The third layer is semantics. Semantics is meaning. In other words, beyond the mechanical rules of the language, what is actually being communicated? Semantics is the aspect of language that refers to something outside itself. “She is sleeping” conveys the meaning that a woman is resting.
- The fourth layer is pragmatics. Pragmatics is intent. It is the purpose accomplished by meaning. It is always inferred from context. Someone says “She is sleeping” for a reason.
Example of pragmatics: The sentence “You have a green light” is ambiguous. Without knowing the context, the identity of the speaker, and their intent, it is not possible to infer the meaning with confidence. It could mean you are holding a green light bulb; or that you have a green light to drive your car; or it could indicate that you can go ahead with the project.
All four layers exist in any English sentence. They also exist in computer languages. If your computer downloads Windows updates from Microsoft, it sends a string of bits which make bytes which make commands, the purpose of which is to request and install the new files. All four layers are easily identified.
These layers exist in DNA as well. DNA contains base pairs which form triplets which form chromosomes which form genes. DNA by its very behavior expresses intent to multiply; this is precisely what is meant by the popular term “Selfish Gene.” The gene doesn’t have to be conscious to be “selfish.” It carries out its own purpose and that purpose is obvious from its behavior. Genes seek to replicate.
The first thing I want you to notice is that the lower levels are subservient to the higher levels. Any sentence you speak starts with your intent, which dictates meaning, which is expressed via the rules of language. These rules order the words which are in turn made of letters.
Encoding works from the top down:
which is expressed through
which is expressed through
which are made of
which are made of
Decoding works from the bottom up:
Communication ALWAYS follows this process. Encoding is always top-down. Decoding is always bottom-up. There are no exceptions to this.
This is the first and most obvious reason why the materialistic explanation for the Origin of Life is wrong. It assumes that DNA and the genetic code were somehow formed from the bottom up. But real communication NEVER originates that way. Nobody can show you an alphabet that had no purpose which then somehow decided to make some words which eventually turned into sentences which eventually developed meaning.
Communication always starts with intent. When we study DNA and living things we decode from the bottom up. We see the individual base pairs in DNA and recognize that they form triplets and genes and chromosomes. Over time we infer what the chromosomes do, just as we decode ancient stone tablets written in an unfamiliar language.
Thus there are three elements of communication:
1) The intended outcome
2) The language that is used to communicate
3) The communication channel
And there are two ways that communication can be corrupted:
1) Noise in the communication channel
2) Malicious intended outcome
Information theory is all about the communication channel. Redundancy, noise, bandwidth, error correction, all that stuff. The mechanical aspects of communication.
All communication systems are subject to entropy which is signal degradation.
A noisy telephone line seldom produces a lie. Degraded signals are unfortunate but they’re not usually malicious.
A lie, however, is the intent to create a message that contains false information. Lies are evil. A lie cannot succeed without all the other layers of communication working properly. If you tell a lie to someone over the phone, the phone has to work for them to believe it. Also, both of you have to speak the same language with the same syntax and semantics.
Lies are parasitic, because they depend on everything else working properly.
When a lie is told, the highest layer (intent) is defective, while the other layers (semantics, syntax, statistics) are left intact. Lies are created from the top down, not the bottom up. (The best lies are perfectly formed, eloquent, persuasive sentences, aren’t they?)
Since lies are parasitic, truth existed first. Lies could not have existed first since they depend on proper communication for their existence.
The very existence of communication indicates an intentional, top-down process. Effective communication by definition cannot exist without truth.
Thus truth exists and an intentional super intelligence exists, because communication exists.
Lies exist. Lies, like all other forms of communication, are created in a top-down process, not a bottom-up process. Therefore evil intent exists and it has a will of its own.
Therefore free will exists.
Therefore evil has a free will and is not a deterministic result of that which is good. Again, because communication is a top down process. A communication pyramid exists in which the highest layer is evil.
Thus good exists, evil exists, evil is a parasite living on what is good and therefore evil is weaker than good.
Good existed first. Evil existed later and had a free will.
Therefore the intention of Good was to permit free will.
Apparently the intention of Good was also to create a universe in which communication could be corrupted and thus evil came to exist.
Thus the very nature of communication tells us that God exists; that free will exists; free will has produced evil; and that evil willfully corrupts communication with lies.
I have not yet addressed the function of noise in the universe. Let me do that now.
Any accident that destroys communication can be considered noise. Radio interference from the sun is not malicious; it just exists.
Likewise, hurricanes and tornadoes and tsunamis are not intentional. They are just examples of chaos.
Again, apparently the intention of Good was to create a universe in which communication could be corrupted by noise.
We ask the question: But WHY was the intention of Good to do things this way?
The very existence of this question reinforces everything I have said about communication so far: Some sort of WHY is always implied and inferred. All communication is intentional. All acts of creation are intentional.
So yes, there is an intention in the universe.
A “bottom-up” materialistic explanation of the universe not only fails to explain the existence and nature of communication. It fails to even support the existence of the question “why” in the first place. It is a self-defeating worldview. It says, “Don’t ask why, there is no why. There is no reason. It just is.” Which contradicts everything we know about information.
The existence of information is evidence of purpose (teleology) in the universe.
None of these statements answer the ultimate question “why is there evil in the world?” They just validate the existence of the question from every angle.
The only way to know why there is evil in the world is to ask Good to reveal it to us.
Which brings us directly to the doorstep of religion and theology. It’s the only place to go.
(Definition of theology: The study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions.)
Finally let me address this question:
“What about our fear of pain and death? If God was real, then he has no fear of death or pain and yet he created beings that must suffer this fate. What does that say about him?”
There’s a fascinating book by Dr. Paul Brand called “The Gift of Pain.” It documents the author’s unraveling of the mysteries of leprosy. He discovered that ALL the horrors of this wasting disease are simply caused by the inability to feel pain. Nothing else.
The worst thing that can happen to anyone is to not be able to feel pain. People who can’t feel pain destroy themselves. Dr. Brand found that once someone’s sensation of pain was dead there was NO substitute. Buzzers or bells or warnings were not sufficient. Nothing else would do.
Pain tells us that the world is not right.
Pain tells us that we are out of touch with that which is Good. That what was originally communicated is being destroyed.
Pain drives us back to the Good.
Fear is anxiety about the possibility of future pain.
We fear death because we intuitively know that death might lead to more pain.
Fear is an inevitable consequence of free will.
We are free to choose Evil, and we are free to choose Good.
Unfortunately the detrimental effects of evil also cause us to trust Evil and to mistrust Good. The confusion is endless sometimes.
This confusion also is a lie.
Sooner or later our pain shows us that this is a lie, because as we embrace evil we experience more pain.
Pain is the only way we know the difference between evil and good.
I will now briefly cross into the realm of Christian theology and point out something that is not always obvious.
Christianity never answers the Ultimate Big Question of Why. In the book of Job, Job asks for the reason for suffering and God tells Job he is too small to comprehend the answer. (There is another very interesting, similar conversation in the apocryphal book of Esdras. You can read that story here.)
But God does not abandon Job in his pain. Instead God becomes man and suffers with us, feels pain with us, endures the consequences of evil with us, and dies.
And in the process of God Himself being destroyed by evil and rising from the dead in a body that is incorruptible, redeems a corruptible world and makes it new again. In Revelation Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new.” The last two chapters of that book describe an entire world that cannot be corrupted. A world that is the way we wish the world was now.
To participate, we must first ask. To acknowledge, seek, and embrace the Good. We both have free will, free choice, to make that decision. To choose Truth or Lies, Good or Evil.