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The Design Argument
This is part of the atheism page, please read the disclaimer before proceeding.
This is such a popular argument that a Google search for ‘Design Argument’ returns over 67 million results. Even amongst more the more widely read material on the subject it is virtually impossible to adequately explore it all. As a result the article looks at two of the most common arguments from design (also known as teleological argument) and their counter-arguments: the traditional design argument and the deductive design argument (also known as Paley’s watchmaker) .This exploration should make it easier to understand and analyze connections between order, design and a designer.
All the design arguments imply some kind of order as a starting point and conclude that order implies the existence of God. So far any order that has been shown to exist has also been shown to exist without divine intervention and so the argument fails. As science progresses design/teleological arguments are becoming less and less likely to withstand logical scrutiny. However, the persistence of these arguments in theological and philosophical discussions warrants exploration:
Traditional Design Argument
The argument is structured as follows:
- Object A in nature resembles a human construction in properties B
- Human constructions (i.e. cars or televisions) exist as a as a result of design by an intelligent being (a human).
- Like effects typically have like causes
- It is highly probable that object A is also a result of design by an intelligent being.
David Hume’s responses are widely regarded as the standard philosophical refutation of traditional design arguments.
Premise 1: Hume said that the analogy is simply not very good. He argues that things in nature are not like human creations or the very least not like enough to for the analogy to be convincing.
Premise 2: While premise 2 may be true in some specific cases of human creation that fact is only made relevant to nature via premise three which sets up the conclusion. Simply put, premise 2 is only relevant if premise 3 is correct
Premise 3: There could be any number of alternative explanations of allegedly designed naturally occurring phenomena. Even if like effects have like causes one would have to eliminate chance, necessity and other causes before the conclusion is correct.
Hume further argued:
- Even if the conclusion was established that would leave the arguer with a very unusual definition of God who would also be responsible for evils or suboptimal designs and that suggests an imperfect and therefore not omnipotent God.
- The establishment of the conclusion also leads to an infinite regress. The designing itself needing an explanation ‘Who or what designed God to design?’ and so on.
Also known as the deductive argument and goes as follows:
- Some things in nature( or the universe itself) resemble design
- Design likeness cannot occur naturally
- Some things in nature are the product of design which requires a designer
Paley’s Watchmaker analogy differs in it isn’t as much a discussion about design itself as the traditional design argument. Paley’s watchmaker is more about what an apparent design says about the designer. The argument has number of issues:
- How do we define design like? Does it need to exhibit intention or purpose? How simple or complex must something be to constitute design likeness? The answers to these and other questions, even today, are still a matter of dispute.
- Experience with a connection between design and design-likeness and a designer in our everyday lives triggers connections between design-likeness in nature and a designer when no such a connection exists. Simply put we, for psychological reasons, automatically associate design-likeness with the existence of a designer without properly exploring alternative explanations.
- The strength of the design arguments rest on the absence of any known plausible non-intentional alternative causal explanations for design-likeness. This lack of alternative explanations steadily becomes difficult to find.
- Lack of explanation can only be established indirectly, through probability and known limits on nature’s abilities. Probability is a dicey matter and limits on nature’s inability to produce design-likeness are also quickly vanishing.
Some argue design as a superior explanation to chance, evolution, and other causes of design-likeness. In this view superior explanations constitutes acceptability. However this is typically a matter of opinion and not necessarily fact.
Quite ironically opponents to evolution either don’t understand or don’t acknowledge that evolutionary processes over time produce species perfectly or near perfectly fit to their environment. So, many of the characteristics used to argue design are also the characteristics that support evolution.
Even in the event an unexplained design were proven this begs the question ‘what designer? An army of invisible super elves is just as logical an answer to this question as any.
In summary design arguments in support of God are becoming harder and harder to support as science progresses forwards. In fact, most experts agree that the only questions remaining are philosophical ones about the origins of the big bang and even those discussions are quickly disappearing.
References and recommended reading:
- Darwin, Charles, 1859 . On the Origin of Species, Facsimile first edition, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Dawkins, Richard, 1987. Blind Watchmaker, New York: Norton.
- Hume, David, 1779 . Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Richard Popkin (ed.), Indianapolis: Hackett.
- Lipton, Peter,1999. Inference to the Best Explanation . 1st Edition. London: Routledge.–––, 2004. Inference to the Best Explanation . 2nd Edition. London: Routledge.