The Design Argument

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  • Created by: Emily
  • Created on: 14-05-13 16:53

Basis of the Design Argument

The Design Argument/ Teleological Argument is an inductive argument with two premises:

  • P1 - the universe has the appearance of design
  • P2 - this suggests there was a designer
  • C1 - the designer was God
  • C2 - therefore God exists

The appearance of design can be seen in two ways: 

  • Purpose - living things are so well structured they appear to have been made for a purpose (e.g. birds are adapted to the air, fish to the water etc.)
  • Regularity - the stars and galaxies move in regular patterns/orbits
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Evaluating the Design Argument

  • No inductive argument can be certain, so the design argument is at best a probability, and not a proof. 
  • Ask yourself: 'which is more likely - that the appearance of design inthe universe is nothing more than the way material objects behave, or that some being designed it?' 
    If you think matter organises itself, then the argument fails, but if you think the appearance of design needs an explanation then 'God' seems a likely one.
  • The design argument has two basic assumptions:
    - P2 assumes that the appearance of design implies a designer; but Dawkins argues that the appearance of design in living things is an illusion, and living things have evolved purely by chance.
    - C1 assumes the designer is God; but Hume argues that if there is a designer, the designer need not be the omnipotent God of Christianity - it may be a lesser being. (The designer doesn't need to be all powerful, just powerful enough.) 
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William Paley's Design Argument

Paley's argument runs from supposition, to inferece, to analogy.

  • The supposition: I come across a watch and suppose that the watch was designed, because it shows clear evidence of design (such as it having regular motions, decorative appearance etc)
  • The inference: seeing the watch leads me to infer the existence of a watch maker, despite the fact I have not seen the watch maker.
  • The analogy: If I look at the universe I can see that it, too, appears to have been designed (through purpose and regularity). So by analogy, seeing the appearance of design in the universe leads me to infer the existence of an unseen designer: God.
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Criticism's of Paley's Design Argument

  • Its first background assumption that the universe is a mechanism was challenged by Hume's view that the universe is more like a giant vegetable, and vegetables reproduce themselves. 
  • Its second background assumption, that any designer of the universe must be the Christian God, was also challenged by Hume, who argued that the designer need not be God, it could just be a very powerful being, or a committee of beings. 
  • Its assumptions and the order of purpose of all living things are challenged by Darwinism. For example, Richard Dawkins argues that all the living things we now see are just what happened to evolve by chance. 
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Hume's Rejection of the Design Argument

Note: Hume's objections were written before Paley wrote his Design Argument

  • The design argument assumes the existence of a metaphysical designer, but both metaphysics and religion are nonsense. Hume argues we can only know what we experience with our senses, and so our physical senses can know nothing of a metaphysical being. 
  • Like causes demand like effects. In other words, we don't need to assume the designer was the single, omnipotent, metaphysical, perfect God of Christianity.
  • Hume argues that the universe is more like a giant vegetable than a machine,and vegetables don't need designers - they reproduce themselves.
  • The order we see in the world could have evolved by itself. The 'Epicurian Hypothesis' argues that gradually over time, the natural forces evolved into an ordered system - The stability and the order is not a result of a divine designer.
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Swinburne's Scientific Design Argument

Swinburne's main form of the design argument is his argument from Temporal Order, which says that the most probable explanation for the fact that all of nature obeys strict laws is that nature was designed in this way

As a backup to this argument, he adds an argument from Spatial Order, which says that not only has nature been designed to work through strict scientific laws, it has been designed to produce intelligent beings like ourselves. 

If we ask: 'what is the most probable explanation of the temporal and spatial order in the world?' there are kinds of answers we can rationally give: either the universe contains an unthinking principle of order, or temporal and spatial order are the result of the purposes of an intelligent creator. The latter begs fewer questions than the former, so it is more probable that God designed the universe. 

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The Argument from Temporal Order

By temporal order, Swinburne means the fact that the laws of nature operate with complete predictability. In fact, science works on the principle that this temporal order will continue (e.g. we assume the laws of gravity will continue).

This order has nothing to do with us: it really is in nature. Kant argued that the universe may really be in chaos but because of the ways in which our mind organises our experience, the world only appears to be ordered.

Swinburne rejects this: we expect the laws of science to hold, and we expect them to be the same wherever we look. All our experience so far shows that what we expect is true and this can only be because nature really does conform to scientific laws. 

The most probable explanation for this order is God. Ockham's Razor can be used to argue that we should accept the 'simplest proposed as an explanation for phenomena' and Swinburne claims that it is simplest to assume the designer is the God of Christian theism. 

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Strengths of Swinburne's Argument

  • Swinburne's argument from temporal order defeats Dawkins' argument against design. Swinburne claims that evolution explains nothing at all, because it obeys the laws of biology and genetics. 
  • Since Swinburne rejects creationism, his design argument is immune to Dawkins' attack on what Dawkins sees as simplistic and superstitious religion.
  • Swinburne incorporates science into his argument successfully in what he says about the predictability of scientific laws.
  • Swinburne is right to claim that the orderliness of the world requires an explanation. 
  • At least Swinburne doesn't claim too much: he says that the teleological argument is a probability argument and not a proof.
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Weaknesses of Swinburne's Argument

  • The weakest point in Swinburne's teleological argument is that he underplays the extent of imperfection in the universe, however he does point out the argument does not have to prove the designer is good. 
  • Hume's objection to the God of Christianity (like causes demand like effects) is a powerful one. Swinburne uses Ockham's Razor to argue that the simplest assumption is that the designer is the single, omnipotent, metaphysical, perfect God. But, a) it may not be that the simplest explanation is always right, and b) some argue that it is simplest to assume that matter organises itself. 
  • Probability arguments can be weak. It depends on what you think is probable, looking at the anthropic principle shows this. 
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The Anthropic Principle

The Anthropic Principle discusses the relationship between the universe and humans. There are two forms of the principle:

  • The theistic, or deistic, Strong Anthropic Principle, also known as the 'Fine Tuning Argument'
  • The non-theistic/non-deistic, Weak Anthropic Principle
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The Theistic Anthropic Principle

  • There are a number of 'boundary conditions' which govern why the universe has the features it does.
  • Without these conditions, no order - and therefore no life - would ever have formed in the universe. For example, the expansion rate of the universe has to be fine-tuned to an incredible extent since the universe is expanding at exactly the right speed to produce stars and planets capable of evolving intelligent life. The 'stickiness' of gravity: too sticky and the lighter elements would never have formed, not sticky enough and no elements would have ever formed; gravity is set at the right constant to produce biological entities such as humans. 
  • The combined odds against all the boundary conditions being right purely by chance are so vast that it is roughly the same as the number of atoms in the entire universe. 
  • The universe is ordered and contains intelligent life, so the boundary conditions have been met. So at such high odds, there must to have been a designer who intended the emergence of intelligent life in the universe.
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The Non-Theistic Anthropic Principle

  • The non-theistic anthropic principle points out that in order for us to be commenting on the fact that we are here, the boundary conditions have of course been met, but we cannot draw any religious conclusions from this fact because there are a number of explanations that do not involve design by God: 
    - there may have been failed/chaotic universes in the past, and this may be the one universe where, however unlikely, all the boundary conditions have been met purely by chance.
    - there may be millions of universes existing now, alongside this one, and they may all be lifeless apart from this one.
    - if the number of universes, past and present, is potentially infinite, then there may a vast number of ordered universes apart from our - some more ordered, some less ordered.
  • In other words, if ours is the only universe that ever existed, then belief in God is inescapable, and the design argument is right; but we have no means of showing that this is the only one.  
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