God as infinite regress: Darwinian evolution and the “designer God” argument

An example of infinite regress. Image Credit: Steve Patterson

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; (Hebrews 1:1-2, NKJV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it (John 1:1-5).

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day…Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:1-5, 26-27)

A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us to escape. This argument, as I shall show in the next chapter, demonstrates that God, though not technically disprovable, is very very improbable indeed (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Kindle Edition, page 136).

Dawkins has said before that he is opposed to all forms of supernaturalism, that he isn’t opposed to just one view of God but all views of God, all gods. And yet, he says in his quote above from The God Delusion that if there is a designer God, “God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us to escape.” Since the world is complex, Dawkins argues, then God Himself must be complex. But what Dawkins is saying here is that, in the same way that the world has developed through small-scale changes, God has developed in the same way. In other words, God is “becoming,” “growing,” evolving.

This explanation and assumption about God is what Dawkins believes eliminates the designer God argument, but it doesn’t; rather, it shows more of Dawkins’s view and the approach of some theists to incorporate Darwinian evolution into their conception of God than anything else.

I’ll unpack all this below.

Nature evolves, and a naturalist/physical God would evolve, too

Dawkins doesn’t believe in God — that has been pointed out to no end — but he believes that if a God exists, and science can determine this God, then “God” will evolve or have evolutionary traits in the same way that nature has evolved. Dawkins believes that this undermines the designer God argument (that a God designed the world), but it doesn’t. Why is this the case? Dawkins assumes that evolution is responsible for all we see. His response “begs the question” of whether or not evolution exists. If one assumes evolution, and assumes that nature is greater than “God,” then Dawkins’ answer appeases individual thought.

The problem with this mindset of the “infinite regress” God is that the true God is not observable as nature is; He doesn’t “evolve” or change like nature does. The trees grow and change, and the seasons change, and the water levels of lakes and oceans change, but God does not change in that way. When Dawkins says that God “presents us with an infinite regress,” he is saying that one would have to peer back into evolutionary history to see where the current God comes from. The 2017 God, in this mindset, is different from the 1925 God, who has evolved from the 1725 God, for example. However, if God is evolving, then so is His intelligence — which undermines the idea firmly planted within Christian thought of exhaustive divine foreknowledge and leads the way into Open Theism (where God doesn’t foreknow all things but “learns” them the split second after they happen, for example).

The idea of an infinite regress God is a problem for two reasons, which I’ll get into below.


Reason #1: The earth is not infinite, and a naturalist God wouldn’t be, either

Dawkins says that a God, if He exists, would be in infinite regress — which means that one could go from the 2017 version of God to earlier versions of God, and back even further in a regression (a “going back”) that never ends (infinite). Unfortunately, an infinitely regressive God doesn’t make any sense logically if this naturalist God (a God made of things in the observable world) comes from the observable world. The simple reason? Nature doesn’t last forever and has a beginning and an end.

Remember “The Big Bang”? Science uses this concept to explain how the earth comes about from nothing: there was nothing, then BOOM! Light appears. What The Big Bang also shows us, however, is that there is a beginning to nature, that nature (Nature, as evolutionists would say) isn’t eternal. Thus, a naturalist God wouldn’t be “infinite” or “infinitely regressive” but would instead, like nature, have a beginning and an end. Nature will also end, and science has also confirmed there’ll be an end to all things. If this Dawkins God is “physical” and made out of natural stuff (Dawkins says that the physical world is the origin of life), then this “physical” God would have a beginning and an end — He wouldn’t be infinite in any regard. So this idea disagrees with Dawkins’ claim of an infinitely regressive God.

Reason #2: A “God of infinite regress” wouldn’t be God at all

I’ve dealt with the implications of a physical God from stuff in the physical world, but there’s another problem with Dawkins’s claim that God would be in infinite regress: a naturalist God wouldn’t be God at all.

The whole idea behind God being physical means that this God would have a beginning and an end (as I said above in reason #1), but this wouldn’t be a God at all, but instead, a human being. After all, if nature has a mind (which has yet to be proven or observed under a microscope, by the way), then a naturalist God would only match human beings: humans would have a mind, and a naturalist God would have a beginning and end to his existence. In other words, “God” would be synonymous with “humanity.” Humans would be the God of the naturalist world. In this setup, there’d be little need to label the naturalist being “God” because he wouldn’t have anything over humanity. If anything, he may outlive humanity, but his days would end and he would be finite, not infinite.

This naturalist God of Dawkins’s conception wouldn’t be eternal, wouldn’t foreknow the future (since he’s evolving, becoming, growing, thinking), and wouldn’t have any control over the future. The naturalist God of Dawkins’s conception wouldn’t be any more in control of the affairs of this world than humans are — he’d be in the same boat as us, unfortunately. He wouldn’t be sovereign, he wouldn’t have all power, and wouldn’t have been here before the beginning of the earth. He may be slightly older than man, but a slightly older human wouldn’t have any more control over life and death than humans do.

Apart from lacking foreknowledge, eternality, power, and sovereignty, a God of infinite regress wouldn’t be God because there’d be a god before him that he’d come from. If there’s a god before the god, one god is more powerful than another god, then the second god becomes less than Deity. As you regress, you eliminate the “gods” and they are no longer “gods” because they owe their existence to a “god” before them. It’s akin to the origin of life: each step in the evolutionary chain isn’t the first because, as you go back from now to approximately billions of years ago, the current “gods” would be derived from earlier gods — making the earlier gods “superior” to the descendant “gods.”

Thus, if a naturalist God ever existed, ironically, he would be at most human, never deity. And he certainly wouldn’t be in infinite regress because he’d have a beginning and an end, fixed states of existence. And unfortunately, in the face of all of society’s current evils, he’d have an end, and so would we all. Last but not least, there’d be no punishment for the evils in the world, merely an end to all things. What good is it to live for a blip of time and then die with no hope of an afterlife? That natural world, and that natural God, might be acceptable to Richard Dawkins, but it isn’t for me.

The word “infinite” only goes to a God that is eternal. I have a feeling that an eternal God is not what Dawkins has in mind.

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