Monday, March 25, 2019

Surveying design arguments for God's existence

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Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 


In our last post, here: ( ), we began looking at a particular type of argument for God's existence called "the teleological argument". A teleological argument uses perceived patterns and purposes of creation to draw together particular conclusions about the intelligent creator of the universe. Such an argument looks for certain marks of design in nature as tell-tale signs of a designer. Modern examples of such teleological arguments include those of the the intelligent design movement. Molecular biologist Michael Behe and Mathematician William Dembski have spoken of such traits as "specified complexity" (i.e. a system that has a low probability of having a developed by chance, such as a watch) and "irreducible complexity" (i.e. a system that required a minimum amount of already functioning parts in operation from its beginning, such as a mouse trap).   

Another modern example of a teleological argument (which will be the focus of the next post) is the so-called "fine-tuning of the universe" for intelligent design. A rather significant portion of astronomers today have discovered that our universe seems to be "just-right" for life. In the last 50 years, astronomers have been stunned by the way nature's constants and quantities are balanced on a razor's edge to permit the existence of intelligent life as ourselves. The explanation for this alleged fine-tuning ranges from chance, to that of necessity (the constants are just what they are) to that of design. 

In the first century world of Paul's day, teleological arguments were in use. The above opening passage in Romans 1:20 illustrates how Paul used this sort of argument to lead the way to what would be his exposition of the Gospel. In today's post, we want to trace how various versions of the teleological argument for God's existence have lent their support to the overall case for God in the face of persistent criticism.

How teleological arguments for God's existence have persisted despite prevailing skepticism

Various other thinkers have crafted their own versions of the so-called "teleological argument" for God's existence. The most notable thinker from the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas, offers five arguments for God's existence near the beginning of his massive 3,500 page volume: "Summa Theologica, Section 1, Question 2, Article 3." In the fifth argument of the series, Aquinas gives a simple illustration of an arrow shot by an archer to summarize his version of the teleological argument:

"Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence, as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God". 

Aquinas roots his argument (as with the other four arguments) in the causative power of God. Some thinkers believe that teleological arguments as a whole were dealt a death-blow by the 18th century philosophers Immanuel Kant and David Hume. Immanuel Kant expressed his doubt in finding evidence for God from consideration of the natural order, since the supernatural realm and natural realms, in his system, were totally separated from one another. David Hume asserted in his philosophical writings the inability to definitively prove, in principle, any relationship between a cause and a given effect.  

For some thinkers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it seemed that the teleological argument was defeated. The project of natural theology, like any study of theology in general, is ever at work explaining the Christian faith to new generations and developing responses to Christianity's critics. Certain Christian thinkers have developed more sophisticated versions of the teleological argument in the last two-hundred years - demonstrating that God's testimony in creation cannot be muted. 

18th century Christian thinker, William Paley, presented his version of the teleological argument by giving the illustration of finding a watch on a beach in the opening of his volume: "Natural Theology". Rather than focusing exclusively on the cause of the watch in his illustration, Paley attempts to demonstrate that certain features of the watch point to an intelligent agent, rather than a non-intelligent mechanical force. Near the end of his eight-point argument, Paley writes:

"A law presupposes an agent; for
it is only the mode, according to which an agent proceeds: it implies a power; for it is the order, according to which that power acts. Without this agent, without this power, which are both different from itself, the law does
nothing; is nothing."

Paley's argument appeared to counter-act the objections raised earlier by Kant and Hume (see above). Some thinkers today (such as the late Christopher Hitchens and the still-living Richard Dawkins) have suggested that the advent of Darwin's theory of evolution in the 1850's dealt a deathblow to any ability to demonstrate design in nature. 

Despite the battles between the evolutionary hypothesis and design-based explanations of the origins of biological complexity in the biological sciences, the realm of 20th century and 21st century astronomy has witnessed the emergence of a growing field of study that explores the question of why our universe allows for the existence of intelligent life such as ourselves - namely the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. This idea of "cosmic-fine-tuning" and whatever relevance it may have in crafting an argument for God's existence will be the focus of our next post. 

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