The Shortcomings of the Design Argument
Posted by Tod BillingsPresident of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, Astronomy lab instructor at the University of Arkansas (UALR), and owner and maintainer of the popular "Godless Zone" online message boardApril 12, 1999.
By Tod Billings
Despite my illness and cold-medicine induced stupor, I couldn't bring myself to ignore your post. ; )
I hope I can form coherent sentences. Let me know if you don't understand something I'm trying to say.
>The question of a Creator? To acknowledge a creator is to acknowledge a >god, in the Christian case, the God.
Not at all, one can acknowledge a Creator and not acknowledge a god anything like your God, or any other god concept.
Our resident deist believes in a creator that is not omnimax, for example, because he recognizes the logical contradictions, outlined in the problem of evil, of an omnimax creator.
Unless you define God strictly as a creator (and it is obvious by the fact you embrace the Christian God that you do not), than your statement is false.
It could be that there was a creator, but it was a mortal being, now long dead, which existed in another universe. It could be that we were created by a race of beings. It doesn't follow that if there was a creator, it was anything at all like the monotheistic, omnimax versions embraced by several of the dominant religions, including yours.
>The refusal of atheists to deny a creator has always baffled me a little >given the startling 'evidence'.
The refusal of atheists to deny a creator? Is that a typo? ; )
What evidence do you refer to?
>(I use this word reluctantly because it is subjective - what I accept >as evidence many will not). >Allow me to focus on a specific point here without looking at the big >picture (which I am happy to discuss later). >Many put their faith in science - and there is a reason for this, yet >science doesn't come close to answering the questions posed by the >wonders that are humans, animals, plants etc.
So you suggest the god of the gaps? I'd be careful with this God, it has been dethroned with great consistency in the past. It used to be thought that a god pushed the sun across the sky. Science showed that wasn't the case. It used to be thought that a god threw lightning bolts during a rainstorm, science showed that wasn't the case.
I'd be hesitant to label the unknown as the work of God, barring positive evidence to that being the case.
It is a non sequitur to assume that if we don't know how something came about, that must mean that there is a God, or even that it is evidence for a God. That conclusion doesn't follow from the observation. Ignorance is never evidence for anything but ignorance itself.
>Can science make an eye see? No >Can science make an ear hear? No >Can science come close to creating a human brain? No
And this is evidence for a God, how?
Are you implying that if man cannot do it, a God must have done it? That is a huge non sequitur.
Humans also cannot make a mountain, but we know geological forces can. Humans can't form a hurricane, but weather patterns can.
Just because humans can't make something doesn't mean that nature cannot, nor does it lead to the conclusion that there must be a God. It surely doesn't lead at all to the conclusion that the Christian God exist.
>These questions are but the tip of the iceberg of 'Can't dos'. Is anyone >seriously suggesting that these things came from 'nothing'?
Nobody here suggest that everything came from nothing, only that previous forms have changed into present forms.
All the way back to the beginning in a scientific framework, you don't have something from nothing. The Big Bang theory hypothesizes that the universe existed as a singularity, and that the Big Bang was an expansion of that singularity. The energy wasn't created where there was none, but only changed from one form to another.
>I have two simple questions: >1) If what we are is way beyond what man can create, how can we be so >adament that there is no God ?
I'm not adament there is no God, I simply see no evidence for believing in one. Just because you don't believe something doesn't mean that you are adament that it isn't true. I don't believe you drive a blue Nissan, namely, because I have no evidence that you do. However, does that mean I'm adament that you do not drive a blue Nissan? No, I simply see no reason to believe you do or don't.
Now I have a question for you:
Just because things exist that are way beyond what man can create, how does that mean that there is a God, unless one begs the question and assumes that things can't exist unless created by intelligent beings?
>2) And if therefore we cannot be adament about the non-existance of a god, >is it not then possible that the Christain God actually exists?
It is possible that a God exist, yes. However, even if one does exist, it doesn't at all follow that it is the Christian God.
Furthermore, you offer a variation of the design argument, which is inherently self defeating. It basically argues that the order and complexity of the universe requires a creator:
- Order and complexity require a creator
- The universe is ordered and complex
- Therefore, the universe requires a creator
If however, the first premise is true, that order and complexity require a creator, than God, who is infinitely more ordered and complex, requires a creator even more so.
- Ordered and complex things require a creator
- God is an ordered and complex thing
- Therefore, God requires a creator
If the argument is sound, God requires a creator, and if God is exempt, than the universe could be exempt. For that matter, to exempt God is to deny the soundness of the design argument.
Furthermore, who has substantiated the first premise: that ordered and complexity require a creator?
Other versions, which are inductive arguments by analogy, fare no better. They attempt to appeal to anthropomorphic tendencies in humans.
Let's look at Paley's version:
- The universe is an ordered place, analogous to a mechanism (like a watch)
- Ordered mechanisms (like a watch) require a Creator
- Therefore, the universe must have had a Creator
Since this is an argument by analogy, the strength or weakness of the analogy will allow us to determine the strength of the argument. I believe it is a weak analogy, and hence, a weak argument. The strength of an analogy is determined by the amount of similarities between the analogates.
The fewer the similarities, the weaker the argument; the greater the similarities, the stronger the argument. If we push this analogy just the tinniest bit, we can see why it isn't an analogy of which the theist is willing to accept the full repercussions.
All the man-made objects we have encountered were made of preexisting materials.
Therefore, using this analogy, we must conclude that the Creator made the universe out of preexisting materials, negating the Western theistic concept of creation ex nihilio, as well as reducing the creator to merely a builder. There was no creator in the sense of ultimate creation. There is a change from one form to another, not a creation of substance where there was none before.
All the man-made objects we have encountered were built by beings with physical bodies. Using this analogy, we must conclude that the Builder had a physical body. So we can conclude that it wasn't a spirit, but rather a physical being that is the Builder of our universe.
Furthermore, all builders in our experience had a beginning themselves as individual beings, so we can conclude that the Builder had a beginning.
The man-made mechanisms we have encountered were created by physically moving material together or apart. Using this analogy, we must conclude that the Builder of the universe built the universe through physical labor.
When we encounter large and complex man-made objects, like a building or an airplane, we conclude that they were made by a large group of builders, and not a single one. Since the universe is so much more grander and more complex than anything built by man, we must conclude that there were a great number of Builders of our universe, and not just a singular God as the author concludes.
If a man-made object has flaws or redundancies, we conclude that either the maker or designer was ignorant, sloppy, or careless. Since the universe has flaws and redundancies (e.g., genetic degradation, mutations, or other disfigurations, natural disasters, wisdom teeth, male nipples, exploding stars, mass extinctions, etc.), we can conclude that the Builder was ignorant, sloppy, or careless.
All man-made mechanisms we encounter are made by beings that will die. Using this analogy, we can conclude that either God is dead or will die.
All man-made mechanisms were made within the natural world by natural beings. Therefore we can conclude from this analogy that God is a natural being within the natural world, and not a supernatural being in a supernatural world.
The theist denies most if not all of these conclusions, and therefore, at least implicitly, acknowledges the weakness of this analogy.
So we see that there are many dissimilarities between these analogates, and only one true similarity: both of the things in question, the universe and man-made mechanisms. are ordered and/or complex to some degree. As I pointed out earlier however, so is God, if he/she/it exist, so the argument also tells us that God had a creator.
I believe I've established that this argument isn't a sound one, because we can grant the premises to be absolutely true and it still is not the case that the conclusion is true. That is because one of the premises, while true, is a weak analogy. An example:
I am like a watch in some ways. I am made of an assortment of smaller parts. I havemoving parts. I have parts that keep a rhythmic and consistent pace (certain biorhythms). However, I guess I don't have to point out it is a weak analogy, because there are many more dissimilarities. Let's suppose I make an argument like the one I'm about to that uses a similarly weak analogy as a premise:
- Tod Billings is like a watch
- A watch can be worn on the wrist
- Therefore, Tod Billings can be worn on the wrist
Clearly that isn't a sound argument, because we can grant the premises and still see the conclusion is highly unlikely. Especially the first premise. We can grant some similarities, and hence we can grant the premise to be true, but not the similarities crucial to deriving theconclusion. The same is the case in Paley's argument. We cannot conclude that God exist based upon his analogy.
I have already established that the first premise, while true, isn't true in the areas necessary to derive the conclusion that God exist. The second premise is only true depending on how we define a mechanism. This is one of the bigger failings of this argument.
Paley defines such a mechanism as something framed and put together for a purpose, or having a means to an end (William Paley, Natural Theology, 1802. Quoted in Burrill, The Cosmological Arguments, pp. 166-167). If the theist means to point out the regularity in nature and its uniform behavior, then the theist is only pointing to identity and causality, and aren't those necessary corollaries for existence? Everything is subject to these two principles, so this is hardly an argument!
Furthermore, if the theist is going to claim purpose in the universe's layout, the theist is begging the question, since that is what s/he is trying to prove. The theist must demonstrate this, so the theist can't use it as one of his/her premises.
Furthermore, Paley takes it for granted that the criteria by which we judge something to be created and/or designed is the fact that its parts display a means to an end. That isn't how we judge man-made objects. It isn't because of its order or activity that we conclude the watch was created, it is because it displays evidence of being a machine, which we were familiar with before hand. We don't look for purpose, we look for particular markings, materials, expected structures, etc., not just order or a means to an end.
If I created an object that looked identical to a rock, you would conclude it was a natural object, despite the fact that the truth is, it was created and designed by a human. That is because it does not show the characteristics which identify man-made objects, and isn't distinguishable from a natural phenomenon. It has order, in that it has a physical arrangement that isn't arbitrary, and it further could easily have a purpose (a paper weight, a weapon, etc.). Despite the fact that it has order and purpose, you wouldn't conclude it is a man-made object, because it lacks the features that distinguish it from the purely natural world. That is because purpose and order alone are not how we judge whether an object is designed by an intelligent being. When archaeologist identify stone tools as being such, they don't do so because they see a purpose the stone could be used for (that comes after they establish it is indeed an artifact), they look for markings, etc., evidence of having been crafted in a human way with which we are already familiar.
If you recognize a watch is man-made, it is because you already are familiar with the mechanisms and materials that make up a watch, and you then recognize them. It isn't because of its order or its mechanisms in of themselves. It is because you recognize materials, markings etc. not found in nature, but only produced by humans.
To make a long story short, we recognize man-made artifacts by depending on our ability to recognize characteristics not found in nature! Nature itself provides the criteria of comparison by which we distinguish between designed objects and natural objects. If one is going to claim nature itself is designed, by what criteria are we to judge this? If you claim nature is designed, you destroy the criteria by which we determine that objects are designed.
It also must be pointed out that not all aspects of the universe display elements of order or “purpose,” but rather of redundancy, chaos, and randomness. Virtual particles randomly appear and disappear at all time. In fact, all evidence suggest that all quantum activity is random to a degree, and there is no certainty, only probability. What of the aforementioned wisdom teeth? They serve no purpose, as is apparent by the fact that we live just fine without them.
They do in fact cause pain (and even death), which would indicate that, if there is a Creator, he/she/it is either cruel, arbitrary, or redundant. What of solar system debris? Does that indicate order or design? Of course not. It too, is a threat to humans, as this debris sometimes collides with our planet, destroying much or most of the life upon it. What of the aforementioned mass extinctions? What is the purpose in creating a species only to destroy it? The proponents of this argument will have a hard time establishing many aspects of the universe as having order, purpose, or design.
Another problem with this design argument is that it ignores a crucial, and more easily established factor, a factor that allows and predicts some of the aforementioned redundancies, i.e. solar system debris, wisdom teeth, etc., and that is adaptation. Mechanisms don't have to be created, they can evolve and adapt. Adaptation is further more parsimonious than the notion of a Creator, because we already know that adaptation exist, we know no such thing in regards to a Creator (and this argument doesn't establish as much, as I've demonstrated).
Take wisdom teeth, for example. In the theistic model, they are unexplainable. Would you build a house for your family with unnecessary redundancies? Of course not, why invest the time and money into adding a feature to your house that serves no purpose? Would you build such a house with a feature not only redundant, but which you know will some day cause your family pain or even death? Of course you wouldn't. So why would a God?
Granted, that doesn't lead to the conclusion there is no Creator, only that there isn't a perfect omnimax Creator, and if there is one, this Creator is either ignorant, careless, or malevolent. But what person putting forth this argument believes in a Creator that is either ignorant, careless, or malevolent?
In the evolutionary model of adaptation however, wisdom teeth, for example, is explained and predicted. We know from fossil evidence that our ancestors show a continuous trend towards a reduction of sub-nasal prognathism, i.e. the jutting of the jaw.
We also know from the same fossil evidence that our ancestors have had the same number of teeth since before we were hominids, and that hasn't changed in many millions of years. It stands to reason that as the jaw shrinks, if you continue to have the same number of teeth, wisdom teeth will be the result. If you try to fit the same amount of teeth in a smaller and smaller area, they will be pushed together. Adaptation allows these examples of disorder in our universe, both in the context of biological and cosmological evolution.
So the theist has not only failed to establish that the universe is a mechanism, but even if we grant that, the theist has failed to establish that a mechanism must be created, and cannot evolve and adapt. For these numerous reasons, this argument is not a good one.
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