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  • Writer's picture Peter Kupisz

Responding to Objection: "Who Designed the Designer?"

Does believing in God make sense? Richard Dawkins argues that it does not. In particular, Dawkins thinks that the design argument for the existence of God does not work. (The design argument says that there must be a designer responsible for the incredible design found in the universe by biologists and physicists.) One of Dawkins' reasons for rejecting the design argument is that this leaves unexplained how the designer (i.e. God) was designed. In other words, who designed the designer? Dawkins reasons that God must be at least as complex as the biological life forms themselves. And therefore someone must have designed God. But since God is understood to be the ultimate reality, no one could have designed him, and so the argument breaks down.

The eminent philosopher, Alvin Plantinga (Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame) critiques the first part of Dawkins' case in the following excerpt.

First, suppose we land on an alien planet orbiting a distant star and discover machine-like objects that look and work just like tractors. Our leader says, ‘There must be intelligent beings on this planet who built those tractors.’
A first year philosophy student on our expedition objects: ‘Hey, hold on a minute! You have explained nothing at all! Any intelligent life that designed those tractors would have to be at least as complex as they are.’…
…it is [still] perfectly sensible [despite what the student says]… to explain the existence of those tractors in terms of intelligent life, even though (as we can concede for the moment) that intelligent life would have to be at least as complex as the tractors.

Plantinga goes on to point out that one does not need to explain all design in order to explain some design. One does not have to explain who or what produced tractors on an alien planet in order to infer that they must have been designed by some type of intelligent beings. The same type of reasoning is true of other things in science; for example, one does not need to explain the cause of gravity in order to invoke gravity as a cause.

There is one more point that also needs to be appreciated. Theologians have long argued that God is “simple” in that he cannot be separated into different parts and therefore is not “complex” or “designed” in the way other things are. By definition, God is a spiritual being that does not operate according to the normal rules of physical matter. Therefore, there is no design in God which

would require another designer to explain.

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Alvin Plantinga, “Science or Naturalism? The Contradictions of Richard Dawkins,” Text, ABC Religion & Ethics, April 12, 2012,



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