Archive for March, 2011

Evidence For God’s Existence – The Teleological Argument

In continuing with the second argument supporting the existence of God or a supernatural deity, I will turn my attention to the teleological argument, or the argument from design. I have already touched on this one a bit in a prior blog, but I will attempt to be a bit more thorough in my evidentiary support of this argument. However, we need to hit on what the logical statement of the argument is first:

1) If the universe is fine-tuned, then its complexity in design implies a supernatural Designer.
2) The universe is finely-tuned.
3) Therefore, the complexity in the universe’s design implies a supernatural Designer.

The teleological argument is often used interchangeably with the term “intelligent design,”; that is, there is an Intelligence that designed the universe to give us the necessary pre-conditions for life to exist on the Earth. However, one must be careful not to count “intelligent design” with “creationism.” While believers in one are typically believers in the other, the two are not synonymous. Creationism is the school of thought that the Christian theistic God created the universe and everything in it. Intelligent design merely posits the strong likelihood that an Intelligent Designer is responsible for the creation of the universe. As Stephen Meyer puts it, “Intelligent design is an inference from empirical evidence, not a deduction from religious authority.”

The support for the teleological argument comes from two different branches, both of which have been attacked by critics of the argument. The first is irreducible complexity. This is the notion, based on a comment by Darwin, that if such an entity exists that cannot have parts removed and still have it function, it is irreducibly complex, making evolution of such an entity impossible. Michael Behe of the Discovery Institute made this view popular among proponents of ID. His most basic explanation was of a mousetrap, which consists of five parts that are all essential to the working nature of the machine. The important thing to note is that his statement was that if any one of the parts is removed, the entity ceases to function as is. So a mousetrap that can work as a tie clip does not defeat irreducible complexity; a mousetrap that works as a mousetrap should (snapping shut and breaking the neck of a mouse when the cheese is moved) without one of the parts would defeat irreducible complexity of the mechanism.

Some further examples of irreducible complexity as related to biology are the natures of blood clotting (no middle ground where life would continue if the clotting process where incomplete) and of the flagellar motor (which would cease to move and fight bacteria if pieces were removed). While a subset of the flagellar motor has been discovered, keep in mind two pieces of that argument: 1) It doesn’t explain how the 10 proteins necessary for the TTSS formed together–so creating a different potentially irreducibly complex organism, and 2) The TTSS subset doesn’t function as a flagellar motor. Irreducible complexity, though at times poorly worded, only states that the organ in question cease to function without all of its pieces. The TTSS to the flagellar motor is like a bicycle to a car. While they both possess many of the same pieces, the bicycle won’t work without the centripetal force provided directly from its occupant. It needs an engine to perform that task, which it doesn’t have. Therefore, it ceases to have the functionality of a car. While a car is not irreducibly complex, the analogy is appropriate.

So the truth about irreducible complexity is that has yet to be defeated. The scientific community has attempted to discredit it by citing a lack of peer-reviewed articles (an argument which Ben Stein’s “Expelled” exposes remarkably well) and that a judge ruled that its scientific credibility was lacking in a court case (based, of course, largely on the lack of peer-reviewed articles), but the truth is that its tenets still hold. While not the strongest piece in support of the teleological argument, it is a common one and still contains merit.

The more appealing aspect of the teleological argument is the evidence of the fine-tuning of the universe, otherwise known as the anthropic principle. This is the concept that the overwhelming evidence of design in our universe points to an Intelligent Designer, something that exists outside of the universe with the ability to create such an existence so that life would be possible in a specific area for a specific instance. The other term for this is “specified complexity.”

Now when we are looking at things that may be “specifically complex,” we can’t necessarily use methodological naturalism, which by definition excludes supernatural hypotheses. We must use the evidentiary method, which is rooted in abductive reasoning. The problem is that in abductive reasoning, the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent is possible. For example, no one doubts the existence of Napoleon. Yet we use abductive reasoning to infer Napoleon’s existence. That is, we must infer his past existence from present effects. But despite our dependence on abductive reasoning to make this inference, no sane or educated person would doubt that Napoleon Bonaparte actually lived. How could this be if the problem of affirming the consequent bedevils our attempts to reason abductively? Philosopher and logician C.S. Peirce: “Though we have not seen the man [Napoleon], yet we cannot explain what we have seen without” the hypothesis of his existence. Peirce’s words imply that a particular abductive hypothesis can be strengthened if it can be shown to explain a result in a way that other hypotheses do not, and that it can be reasonably believed (in practice) if it explains in a way that no other hypotheses do. In other words, an abductive inference can be enhanced if it can be shown that it represents the best or the only adequate explanation of the “manifest effects.”

In modern times, historical scientists have called this the method of inference to the best explanation. That is, when trying to explain the origin of an event in the past, historical scientists compare various hypotheses to see which would, if true, best explain it. They then select the hypothesis that best explains the data as the most likely to be true. But what constitutes the best explanation for the historical scientist? Among historical scientists it’s generally agreed that best doesn’t mean ideologically satisfying or mainstream; instead, best generally has been taken to mean, first and foremost, most causally adequate.

Now let’s look at some things that appear to have the marker of complexity on them. For example, the fundamental constants (i.e. gravitation, weak force, strong force) seem extremely fine-tuned. For instance, the change in either gravitational constant or electromagnetism in one part in 10 to the 40th power would have caused either all red dwarfs, which would be too cold to support life-bearing planets, or blue giants, which would burn too briefly for life to develop. Or looking at the cell, which was described by Richard Dawkins as “uncannily computer-like” and by Bill Gates as having a DNA structure that is “like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” The inference to the best explanation for the structure of the cell is intelligent design. Why? Two reasons: 1) materialism fails to explain the origin of such information, but more importantly, 2) we know that intelligent beings can and do product information of this kind (computer-like). When we see these types of complex structures in our world, we are not surprised to see an intelligent designer is the cause. Yet why is that such a stretch of the imagination when it comes to our own design, both cosmologically and biologically?

It really is the inference to the best explanation. Complex structures infer design, and design implies a Designer. The teleological argument stands firm against both scientific and logical critique, and can only be discredited in scientifically invalid ways. This is evidence IN FAVOR OF supernaturalism as the most plausible worldview.

I will it cut it off here, but more evidentiary support is available in certain areas if requested/debated.

Evidence For God’s Existence

For those who have been privy to the attempted discussions I’ve been trying to have at blessedatheist.com, and you actually want to have a reasonable dialogue on the evidence for God’s existence, this is for you.

My evidence for God’s existence begins with a four-pronged effort. These four ideas are thus:

1) Cosmological argument – The universe has a Cause, and that Cause is uncaused and supernatural in origin
2) Teleological argument – The overwhelming evidence of design and order to the universe implies a Designer
3) Moral argument – objective moral values exist, and the only way we can know what is morally right and morally wrong is with an objective standard for these values, which can only be found supernaturally
4) Intangibility argument – intangible things, such as ideas, emotions, etc., exist, and since the natural order shows that things must reproduce after their own kind, these intangible concepts must proceed from something intangible. This something intangible is akin to what the Bible refers to as “soul”

I will tackle each one of these in turn, but for this blog post and in an attempt to see some actual fruitful discussion occur, I’ll stick with point #1 and save the others for other posts.

The kalam cosmological argument follows deductive reasoning in logic, and is stated as thus:

1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2) The universe began to exist.
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

In order to break this argument down, you have to show either that one of the premises or the conclusion is invalid, using logic or factual evidence. Conjecture and hypotheses don’t kill the argument.

How do we know the universe began to exist? Well, we know two ways. First, the second law of thermodynamics, in its most famous stating, says thus: “The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.” Translation: everything is winding down. This results in the following: According to the second law the entropy of any isolated system, such as the entire universe, never decreases. If the entropy of the universe has a maximum upper bound then when this bound is reached the universe has no thermodynamic free energy to sustain motion or life, that is, the heat death is reached.

What does that have to do with the universe’s beginning? Well anything that is coming to an end must have had a beginning, for no infinite thing can have an end by the definition of infinite. Therefore, the universe had a beginning.

The second piece of evidence lies in the expanding nature of the universe, discovered by Hubble in using the redshift of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is commonly accepted by science today that the universe is, in fact, expanding, supported by the Cosmological principle (which demands that the universe looks the same way in all directions and has roughly the same smooth mixture of material) and the Copernican principle (which demands that no place in the universe is preferred–that is, the universe has no “starting point”).

But if we take the expanding nature of the universe and dial it backwards to infinite regress, we would find that the universe would collapse in on itself to a state of nothingness. Therefore, we have to assume that the universe began “ex nihilo,” or “out of nothing.” Interestingly, this is exactly the conclusion that Lawrence Krauss has come to by determining that the total energy of the universe is zero, precisely what we would expect to see in a universe that was created out of nothing.

So we have an end to the universe supporting its beginning, and we have scientific evidence that the origin of the universe was “ex nihilo.” So that begs the question: how did the universe begin? Many misinformed people would say “The Big Bang, of course.” However the Big Bang theory doesn’t answer the origin question; note this explanation from Wikipedia: “Without any evidence associated with the earliest instant of the expansion, the Big Bang theory cannot and does not provide any explanation for such an initial condition; rather, it describes and explains the general evolution of the universe since that instant.” So the underlying implication is that something caused the Big Bang.

Now there has to be a first cause to the universe. Richard Dawkins’ theory of “complex must be from more complex” makes no sense because if you take the argument to reductio absurdum you get infinite regress–there can be no cause for anything because everything must have a cause great than it. So there is no cause, which means there can be no effect. If you ask for the cause of something like an ice cube, then the cause of the ice cube must have a cause, and that cause has a cause, and so on into infinity. There must have been a first, uncaused cause to the universe in order for it to have the nature of cause-and-effect that we see today. (Note: This Dawkins argument fails to make a reasonable objection to the teleological argument for the very same reasons.)

Now let’s look at alternative theories. First, science seems to have come to this ex nihilo conclusion and realized that this answer to the uncaused cause–to the origin of our universe–lies outside of our universe. Enter the multiverse hypothesis. However, scientists like Krauss fully understand and recognize that even if a multiverse were to exist, we would never be able to see it or know it here on this earth. So it is at best an untestable hypothesis and at worst like shooting a gun with blanks in the dark hoping to kill a deer.

The other theory of course, is that a supernatural entity created the universe. This theory began at least 4,000 years ago with the author of Genesis, so in terms of dating as validation for theory, God’s existence wins. It’s a hypothesis that has been supported and documented throughout history and pre-dates modern science, and nothing that science has found contradicts what is possible with a supernatural being creating the universe. The Big Bang is completely possible as a means for beginning everything by God, timing issues aside.

So if you were a betting man, would you bet on a cosmological theory that pre-dates modern science and has been only corroborated by the scientific evidence found, even in recent years, or would you go with a theory that has never been and never will be tested, one that we can never see or understand (much in the same way that atheists feel about the God hypothesis), and has only been proffered in the past 100 years?

I’ll go with the evidence supporting God’s existence as the much more plausible worldview.