The Teleological Argument

I never realized until now that God has been training me even since I knew what it meant.

I grew up in a Christian home that was never short on Bibles. When I was growing up, my favorite Bible was a New Century Version because interspersed throughout the Bible were stories (both fiction and non-fiction) or some facts you might find in a science or history book that were pertinent to what Scriptures were on the page. I don’t remember what the Scriptures were for, but I do remember one such excerpt talking about the idea that if the earth were a few thousand feet closer to the sun we would burn up, and if it were a few thousand feet further away from the sun we would all freeze. The purpose, of course, was to point out intelligent design.

In reading up in Systematic Theology by Norman Geisler, I realized that such arguments are under the banner of a bigger argument for the existence of God: the Teleological Argument. This argument contains 2 pieces. One is the “anthropic principle,” which encompasses what I talked about above and I’ll get into some more detail about later. The second piece is one I hadn’t heard of until my Bible study went through the Truth Project recently. That second piece is the notion of “irreducible complexity.”

Let me explain this concept the best way I can. The term “irreducible complexity” is actually a term taken from Darwin. In Chapter VI of his book “On the Origin of Species,” Darwin explains that one of the bases for his theory is the ability for organisms to undergo slight modifications over a period of time to evolve into their current state. His conclusion says thus: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.” He goes on to say that such an organ would be “irreducibly complex,” and would destroy his theory.

The interesting thing is that modern biochemistry seems to have found what Darwin could not — an irreducibly complex organism. Ironically, this organism is the basis for all human life. It is the structure of the human cell. It has been determined that if any one piece of the cell’s make-up were to be removed, the entire structure of the cell would fall apart and cease to be. If every single piece is necessary, then there is no “evolutionary link” that could have been lacking any part of its structure. The cell either exists in full form or it doesn’t exist; there is no middle ground.

One other such example is the bacterial flagellum, which requires all parts in order to be a fully functioning organism. Those attempting to refute this idea suggest that not enough is yet known about the bacterial flagellum with which to make this conclusion to a certainty. Another interesting concept is the idea of blood clotting. If this process evolved the way other processes evolve, then the starting point or middle ground would have meant that blood would not clot properly, in which case a person (or ape, or whatever) would simply bleed out because nothing could stop the bleeding. If all of these creatures were dead, then how could they evolve? It appears that Darwin’s theory is breaking down.

The anthropic principle is equally important to emphasize the nature of a Creator with intelligence and a perfect knowledge of what we need. My understanding of this principle is that there is evidence suggesting some intelligent design in the way the Earth was created for us to be able to sustain life on it . Some examples given by Geisler:

1) Earth’s atmosphere is 21% oxygen. If this ratio was 25%, fires would erupt; if it was 15%, humans would suffocate.
2) If the gravitational force were altered by merely one part in ten to the 40th power (ten followed by 40 zeroes), the sun would not exist and the moon would crash into the earth or veer off into space.
3) If the universe were expanding at a rate one-millionth more slowly than it is, the temperature on Earth would be 10,000 degrees Celsius.
4) If the earth’s crust were thicker, too much oxygen would be transmitted to support life. If it were thinner, volcanic and tectonic activity would make life untenable.

Albert Einstein may have summed it up best when he said, “The harmony of natural law…reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.”

What’s most telling about the teleological argument is that its claims are made based on scientific discovery, which is the primary rebuttal against a pro-theistic stance (no evidence of intelligent design in science). From what I’ve seen in debates on YouTube and other websites (which of course, is filled with bias both ways and what I’ve seen in no way represents every mention of the subject), it appears that evolutionary biology is scrambling to find answers to these questions posed to them. I admit that I entered this realm with a definite bias, but this type of science leaves me with fewer questions and more answers, which is more than I can say about evolution at this point.

I guess ultimately what I’m saying is that I’m so glad to have a God that is omniscient and can foresee our needs, and as a result tailored together such a wonderful thing that can support our existence. I’m sure similar posts are forthcoming, as this is only chapter two in volume one of systematic theology. I’m anxious to learn more about our great God!

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6 responses to this post.

  1. I realize you will delete this response but I consider it my civic duty to help you a bit.

    …but I do remember one such excerpt talking about the idea that if the earth were a few thousand feet closer to the sun we would burn up, and if it were a few thousand feet further away from the sun we would all freeze.

    The earth does not have a perfect circular orbit plus the tilted axis stays constant throughout the orbit so that there is a ‘natural’ distance variation from the sun from any single point on the surface depending on the time of year based on the tilt alone. Because the orbit is eccentric, the aphelion (farthest point from the center of the orbit is just over 152 million kilometers. The perihelion (closest to the center of the orbit is just over 147 million kilometers. That’s a difference not of a few thousand feet as you mention but about 5 million kilometers in variation every year. Note that we do not burn up or freeze based on this distance (we in the northern hemisphere are closest in the winter), so either your memory is faulty or the religious article was in error. But when you want to learn something about the cosmos, I urge you to look to astronomy rather than religion which has long track record of being wrong.

    Reply

  2. Again, I know you’ll delete this comment, but I wanted you to consider the reasoning behind the anthropic principle. Basically, this means (as you know) that because things are the way they are there must be a god. Variances would render life extinct so the chances of everything being just so to allow life indicates such an infinitely small probability that these conditions just happened takes more faith than believing in a cosmic designer.

    How did I do?

    This seems like a reasonable argument. Why is it false?

    The short answer is things are the way they are because that’s the way things are. We can understand how things came to be given the conditions under which this development took place. In other words, the anthropic principle comes at establishing the chances exactly backwards.

    Let me explain using an analogy.

    You go out and buy a lottery ticket. Your chances of winning are very low. In a typical 6/49 lottery (choose six numbers correctly out of a possible 49) the odds are 49x48x47x46x45x44, or about 10 billion divided by the total grouping of six (6x5x4x3x2x1=720), which works out to just under 14 million to one. That a percentage chance of 0.00000007151… very low.

    From the front end, you chances are very low… very close, in fact, to zero. We do the calculations and figure out chances of winning are almost nil.

    Yet you win. Or if not you, then someone wins. Some lucky sod ‘beat’ the odds and pockets a few million dollars. The chances of that person winning were almost nil yet win he or she did. The probability of that person winning before the draw was one in fourteen million. Note that our use of the words chance and probability at this end of the figuring are equivalent. And these are the same words used in the anthropic principle: the chances of the world being just such for life are very low… almost nil. The probability of the conditions to be just so are very lim indeed. So far, so good.

    Now we look at these words from the other end, from after the person wins the lottery. The chances of the person winning the lottery remains at 14 million to 1, but the probability has risen to a fact, namely a probability of 1. In other words, the person did win the lottery. Although the chance were very slim, next to nil, the person did win the lottery.

    Now here’s the question: is the fact that there is a winner mean that some agency caused that set of numbers to be chosen because the chances were so infinitely small?

    The criticism against the anthropic principle is that we have already ‘won’ the lottery, in the sense that the probability that we are here under these conditions means that the probability of this being so is a fact, that P=1. The chances of this occurring by randomness (like the chances of the winning lottery numbers being selected) are very slim, next to nil, but such long odds in no way determines evidence or proof of some external interference. If conditions were altered, then we wouldn’t be here; something else would be. If some other numbers had been drawn, that specific lottery winner wouldn’t be the winner; someone else would be.

    Reply

    • Your third comment was condescending, rude and generally inappropriate in its tone, so it will not be posted on this blog.

      As to your first comment, I admit that I am human and may not have the facts entirely correct on what I remember. I am human, therefore, I err. I suggest you consider the same about yourself when making your own future arguments that seem impervious to your own eyes.

      As to your second comment, the question then begs, “Where did the lottery come from?” In order for there to be a lottery winner, there had to be a lottery. Cosmologically, that means if we made it here in this state, there had to be some Uncaused Cause that got us here. So now we would be getting into the debate of what the Uncaused Cause is. Interestingly, you equate our being here in this state to moving from a probability smaller than 1 in 14 million to 1 in 1. My position is that we were always in a 1 to 1 probability, which statistically gives my argument more weight.

      Regardless, it is quite clear that neither of us will be changing our position any time soon, so let’s just agree to disagree and leave it at that.

      Ultimately, you have to realize that the purpose of this blog is to encourage fellow Christians in their beliefs, not to attack or debate atheists. All that does is give you a chance to espouse your beliefs on my blog. There is a place for that; it is your blog. If you would like to link to my blog posts and then respond on your own blog, that’s fine. I don’t begrudge you that right. But as this is meant to be an encouragement, and not a way for us to tear each other down, I would appreciate it if you would confine your comments to your own blog, instead of coming on to mine. I hope you have enough respect for me as a fellow human being to grant me that.

      Reply

  3. I applaud you for leaving the first two comments intact. Since I’ve not seen the third comment, I can’t say what useful purpose its deletion might have served. If it was, indeed, condescending and rude, then it had no place in a public forum.

    However, it does seem rather pointless to have a publicly accessible blog post, with comments enabled, in which a considerable amount of space is devoted to supporting one side of a popular argument – and then, after only three comments are posted, to ultimately discourage any further responses in which the views espoused contradict your own.

    If the goal truly is to “enourage fellow Christians in their beliefs”, wouldn’t they be better served by a continual dialog with equal weight given to all opinions? Then they could decide for themselves.

    Just a thought.

    Reply

    • Hi Flotsam,

      I have no problem with viewpoints contradicting my own being pasted into the comments, so long as the tone is appropriate. It was for this reason that the first two comments remained up, because their nature was one of rational discussion and thought, to which I provided a conclusive and reasonable defense. If you would like to contribute in such a manner and proffer an alternative perspective, by all means I welcome it, as long as it is respectful of myself and other readers who may not be sympathetic to your viewpoint. However, ad hominem statements (like were a part of the third comment in question) will not be accepted as reasonable discussion. I guess this is more of a statement to all than to you personally. I welcome your opinions in the future.

      Reply

  4. Hi,

    Okay – thanks for the clarification.

    I am not necessarily in a position to refute anything you’ve posted. Although, given what I’ve read so far, I think it’s fair to say that my beliefs are contrary to yours. My own blog is brand new and only contains posts about a releatively recent set of developments in my quest to answer life’s questions.

    At this point, however, I am still seeking insight and feel ill equipped to address anything you’ve written directly. If/when I feel like I have something worthwhile to contribute to the discussion, you can be sure I’ll throw in my two cents in as courteous and respectful a manner as I can.

    Reply

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