Feb 8, 2009

Intelligent Design: Does It Prove God?

The Teleological Argument (Argument from Design): This is the argument what Intelligent Design advocates utilize to base their assumptions.   A basic breakdown of the Watchmaker Argument by William Paley (1743-1805):

If you come across a watch you assume it had a designer because, due to it apparent design and complexity, it would be illogical to think it always existed. In this same way we can look at living organisms which are more complicated than watches and infer that they must too have a designer. (Just as we infer an intelligent designer to account for the purpose-revealing watch, so likewise we must infer an intelligent Grand Designer to account for the purpose-revealing world.)

Objection 1. If something complex has a designer then surely the designer would have to be more complex than its creation. This would mean that the designer must also have a creator, thus leading to an infinite series of creators.
Refutation to Objection 1: God is infinite and therefore does not need a creator or explanation outside of itself.
Objection: This violates the premise that complex entities must have a creator.

Objection 2. A watchmaker creates watches with pre-existing materials. God is stated to create from scratch. This difference renders the analogy weak.

Objection 3. A watchmaker makes watches but nothing else. We would not see a laptop and assume that the watchmaker was the designer. This indicates that the arguments suggests multiple creators; one for each type of thing that exists.

Objection 4. The first part of the argument says that the watch stands out from randomness of nature because it is ordered. The second part of the argument claims that the universe is obviously not random, but is ordered. This makes the entire argument inconsistent.
Objection 5. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution: complex animals and plants can be produced through generation by less complex animals and plants. These plants and animals can be show to be derived from a process where complex things cam from inorganic matter. (www.talkorigins.com , also see Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker) So, the premise that complex beings must have a designer is inaccurate.
Refutation to Objection 5: Evolution does not explain the initial origins of the universe. (and they make various other claims about the how evolution isn’t true).
Objection to Refutation: Just because we can’t currently explain the origins does not mean that goddidit. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence for evolution.
There are more objections to this form of the argument, however I think the above is more than enough to show that it is not adequate for proving the existence of a conscious designer. 

Modern teleological arguments tend to focus on the “fine-tuning” in the universe, the fact that it is exactly as it needs to be (“fine-tuned”) to support life. Richard Swinburne (1934- ) reformulated the argument to get around the nuisance of dealing with Darwinist refutations. This is called the inductive argument from design.

“We can reconstruct the argument from spatial order as follows. We se around us animals and plant, intricate examples of spatial order in the ways which Paley set out, similar to machines of the kind which men make. We know that these animal and plants have evolved by natural processes from inorganic matter…They may therefore naturally infer from nature which produces animals and plants, to a creator of nature similar to men who make machine-making machines.”

Swinburne didn’t think this argument was very strong by itself. The circumstances under which nature behaves as a machine-making machine are very rare. This makes the analogy weak. He then goes on to offer an argument from temporal order which he thinks is much stronger than the inductive argument; I summarized it here:

1. Simple laws govern almost all successions of events.
2. The universe might so naturally have been chaotic, but it is not.
3. The universe conforms to a pattern which man can identify and describe. (admits that one could argue that this is by chance)
4. Things have and will continue to conform to such a pattern however initial conditions vary, however men interfere in the world.
5. This order exists independent of men.
6. If the universe were not orderly, men would not exist.
7. There is a great deal more order in the world than is necessary for humans to exist.
8. The existence of the universe is a problem too big for science to explain.
9. Nature only has building blocks of a few kinds. Each of which has its own defining properties.
10. The orderliness of nature is a matter of vast uniformity in the powers and liabilities of bodies throughout endless time and space, and also in the scarcity of kinds of components of bodies.
11. The temporal order of the world is where explanation stops
12. The temporal order of the world is due to the agency of God.

Objection 1 to item #4: Problem of induction (Swinburne admits to this) “Hume's problem is usefully divided in two. There is first what I shall call the descriptive problem: How do human beings form opinions about unobserved matters fact? And then there is the normative problem: Are beliefs formed in this way justified? Does someone who "reasons" as we normally do really have reason to believe his conclusions about the parts of nature he has not observed?” http://web.archive.org/web/20060619050338/http://www.princeton.edu/~grosen/puc/phi203/induction.html
Objection 2. I agree that it is amazing that we are here. But, it is very possible that this is not the first or last universe to exist. We could be the result of a series of “unsuccessful” universes and are the lucky recipients of a working universe.
Objection 3 to item #6: If the universe were not orderly it is true that men would not exist. However, this argument assumes that the current universe is the only possible universe which could sustain life. It could be possible that there are alternative ways in which the universe could be arranged that would also bring about life in an orderly fashion. Also, I don’t understand the String Theory very well, but I think it claims that there is an underlying chaos within the order of the universe. So, someone that actually understands the string theory may be able to make a scientific objection on this.
Objection 4 to item #8: I actually agree with this. But there are some that would argue that eventually science will be able to explain everything. 
Objection 5 to item #9: String theorists may have an objection here.  However, I am not going to discuss string theory in this post 
Objection 6. to item #12: it is illogical to jump to the conclusion of god. God has distinct attributes which are not supported by this argument. It would have been more appropriate to say intelligent designer. This designer could be a highly intelligent race of aliens for the purposes of any argument from design.
Objection 7. There is no reason to conclusively state that the universe is temporal (finite). There is a common misconception that the universe is claimed to “start” from the big bang. This is simply as far as science has been able to explain at this point. I would have to brush up on what Big Bang theorists do and don’t think in order to explain this further.

Swinburne went on with some more arguments from design, if anyone wants to look at them further the book is “The Existence of God” by Richard Swinburne (1979) Oxford University Press.

So, that was a crash course in the Argument from Design. It is far from a complete explanation or refutation, but it lays down the basis from which the argument formed and how it is stated today.


More about the Argument from Design: http://web.archive.org/web/20060619050338/http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/design%20argument%2011%202004.pdf 

The full length version of Paley's Watchmaker argument can be found at the following url: http://web.archive.org/web/20060619050338/http://www-phil.tamu.edu/~gary/intro/paper.paley.html


  1. Don't mean to be picky, but "temporal" does not mean "finite". What Swinburne is talking about regards temporal order is the fact that things exist, not only in space, but in time, and that things happen in time in a reliable or orderly way... what he calls "regularities of succession". Like you though, I don't think his argument holds much water.