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.

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Complexity in design does not automatically imply a supernatural designer. Your first premise is also not stated properly– I don’t think you can use an if-then with then conclusion following the “then” in the first premise. If you state the conclusion in the first premise, then you’ve made an unwarranted assumption.

    Positing a supernatural designer is not the most parsimonious position (it also involves you in an infinite regress). The natural sorting algorithm of evolution by natural selection (which is supported by loads of empirical evidence from many fields of study– try Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True for a concise accounting of the evidence) *is* a parsimonious position. With La Place, Je n’avais pas eu de c’est hypothese…

    I yield the floor, sir.

    Reply

    • Hi Amy,

      Thanks for coming over. Let me touch on both of your points.

      First, the logic is sound. This is a hypothetical syllogism, where an antecedent and a consequent are present in the first premise. The conclusion can be the consequent, but the only way it is fallacious is if you affirm the consequent to establish the antecedent. I am affirming the antecedent, so it is logically valid. The challenge for the person disagreeing with the logical premises is to show that at least one is invalid, which needs to be supported by evidence. So it is your task to show evidentially that one of these premises is invalid in order to defeat the logic. Otherwise, it holds, particularly because of all the evidence that I’ve shown to affirm the antecedent (support of the second statement in the logical argument).

      Your first sentence in the 2nd paragraph lacks evidence. How do you know this? I’ve already shown Dawkins’ “Who designed the Designer?” argument to be fallacious, so that argument doesn’t hold weight. So where’s the infinite regress? Also, where is the evidence that shows that natural selection and intelligent design are incompatible? I have no problem with the concept of natural selection. My issues with evolution have to do with origins, with abiogenesis, with gaps in the fossil record, and with the attack on naturalistic theory in the scientific field of taxonomy (more on that in evidentiary point #4).

      So I return the floor to you, asking for your evidence on both fronts. Otherwise, they’re just blanket statements that don’t really pack a punch against what’s been presented in favor of supernaturalism. Counter evidence with evidence. I’m truly willing to listen. Thanks again for dropping by!

      Reply

  2. Mr Hubbo. I’ve replied to this at some length at my site. Or at the moment it’s on my homepage, if you prefer. Feel free to answer on my forum, linked below each article, if you like. Though if you do, I’d prefer it if you start a new thread specifically for this, rather than use the general discussion thread already in use.

    I will not discuss it here, where my words may be edited, but giving you a free and unedited right of reply is only fair.

    Reply

    • I read your response, and while I have to say that buried in there were a couple of evidence-based points, what I saw at large was more an attempt to discredit me based on character rather than on actual facts or merited arguments.

      However, a couple of key points that are worth addressing, because you actually attempted to attack the argument instead of me:
      1) Your shooting down of the flagellar motor is based on a) one judge’s opinion, and b) you use the addition of a piece to say that the mousetrap is irreducibly complex, when the issue at hand is what happens when that piece goes away. The mousetrap ceases to be a mousetrap, ergo, a MOUSETRAP is irreducibly complex. A mousetrap can become something else by removing one of its parts, but it can’t be a mousetrap. That’s irreducible complexity, not the reverse process you tout.

      2) The scientific method is flawed because it rules out hypotheses from the outset. I touched on this in the last article, but I will be more than happy to embrace the scientific method when it is not based on MN. Until then, it lacks credibility, because all ideas are allowed, as long as they’re not supernatural. That’s a stacked deck.

      3) You keep asking for testable evidence. Under that theory, we ought not to believe you were ever born, because there is no testable, unfalsifiable evidence for your birth. So if you want my testable evidence for supernaturalism, show me how that works for these types of things as well. Otherwise, the method of inference to the best explanation is the BEST way to determine the accuracy of evidence. Ergo, bye bye scientific method.

      Ultimately, you try to cloud the issue at hand with some keen slight-of-hand, but ultimately only a couple of your arguments carried any evidentiary support, while the rest was just a character attack and has no credibility or bearing on the situation. For your attempt at calling my argument tired, your response was even more tired. Well done on a well-written piece. An English professor would give you full marks. A science or history professor, however, would likely say “please try again.”

      Reply

  3. Posted by yokohamamama on March 25, 2011 at 8:16 PM

    “Under that theory, we ought not to believe you were ever born, because there is no testable, unfalsifiable evidence for your birth.”

    Heavens to betsy! I think Daz’ mother might disagree with you there, Mr. Hubbo.

    Our blackout time is coming up, so unfortunately I don’t have enough time this morning to give a lengthy reply. Since you were kind enough to give a timely response to my post, I’d like to do so as well, if only briefly.

    First–double checking the hypothetical syllogism rules shows you to be quite correct, so I admit to error. I beg your pardon–I ought to have double-checked before writing. The logical setup of your syllogism is not flawed, as you state.

    Second–in order to disagree with the logical premise, I must (as you correctly note) show one or both premises to be invalid. Your first premise is “If the universe is fine-tuned, then complexity in its design implies a supernatural Designer [sic].” The main thing wrong with this premise is insisting that seeming fine-tuning implies a *super*natural designer, while ignoring that apparent fine-tuning is also perfectly consistent with a Natural Designer (if I may borrow your capitalization). The Designer, if such there is, could just as easily be immanent, a part of nature (and therefore by definition, not supernatural) as transcendent and existing outside of nature (which is, by definition, “super”natural). You need to first show why either fine-tuning or complexity in design necessitate a specifically super-natural (apart from nature), as opposed to natural (part of nature) designer. The latter is the belief of Deists like Spinoza (and, for that matter, Thomas Jefferson)– that the Diety=the Universe. That is a natural, not supernatural, position and requires therefore less extraordinary evidence.

    Third– on the issue of apparent fine-tuning (a figure of speech among physicists), I will for the time being provide two links that do a good job of taking down the second premise:

    http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/Cosmo/FineTune.pdf

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuned_Universe

    (have to shut down now–blackout time soon 😦 I apologize for the brevity of the third point–I’ll try to come back and write an actual response for that later on)

    To you, sir.

    Reply

    • Hi Amy,

      I think Daz’ mother might disagree with me too. My point is when you take the position that everything requires testable, unfalsifiable evidence to reductio absurdum, you get to arguments like that. There is no testable, unfalsifiable evidence that Daz was actually born, so the method we use to believe that he was is the inference to the best explanation, which is the method that I suggest we use for everything in the post. Not the scientific method, because as I’ve shown, that method has its own series of flaws. If we use the former, we really allow for the best work to be done to show what is most causally adequate.

      To your rebuttal on the first premise. I’m not trying to show the necessity of a supernatural Designer; just that it’s the most causally adequate explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe. That’s the burden I extend to myself, and everything that followed in the blog post I feel demonstrates that point. Your explanation of natural Designer is actually pantheism, not deism, because deism affirms transcendence but not immanence (God set the whole thing in motion and then left, so to speak), while pantheism affirms immanence but not transcendence. The problem with pantheism is that taking it to reductio absurdum, it leads to the belief that God created Himself. The two issues with this are: 1) nothing has ever been shown to have created itself, and 2) God being a created being means He’s also limited in the ways that creation is (i.e. not infinite, not eternal, not all-powerful, not all-knowing, etc.), so in essence God ceases to exist as God. He would just be another being like you and me. And a God with faults, at least to me, is not a God worth believing in.

      So there are huge issues with pantheism that make it far less plausible than theism. A God that is both transcendent and immanent, as well as omnipotent, omniscient and omnisapient, would be best suited to fine-tune the universe so that life could flourish on the planet Earth. The book The Privileged Planet goes one step further and states that the fine-tuning of the universe also puts in just such a way so that we could make scientific discoveries that point to the fine-tuning. Read the book for the evidentiary support on that one–it would take too long to rehash here.

      To the articles. Didn’t get through the entire Stenger article, but the objections here seem like grasping at straws. What cosmology does all the time is take the end result and look backwards to determine it (the inference to best explanation method does this too), so when Stenger talks about other life forms possibly existing, it seems a bit silly. All we can do is explain what we know, and the fine-tuning argument shows that what we know is that we would not be here without this extreme fine-tuning. The Wiki article seems to go the same way. So all we’re left with is the theistic hypothesis vs. the multiverse hypothesis, and I’ve already shown that the multiverse hypothesis is a less adequate explanation for both the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the universe. So I really feel like I still have both legs to stand in in terms of my argument. It appears to be the most causally adequate explanation for both pieces we’re trying to explain. If you have time to offer specific rebuttals, I would be more than happy to discuss them here as well.

      To you, ma’am.

      Reply

  4. Don’t know if you noticed, but I answered your rebuttal, again at my own site,a couple of days ago. I should’ve told you, but I sort of assumed you’d be watching for it. My bad.

    Reply

    • To be completely honest, I really wasn’t. Thanks for pointing me to it. I didn’t see anything in there that was really new, though, so I’m not sure if it’s really worth either of us writing it all out again. I understand your position, and while I disagree with it, I respect your intentions and reasons for having it. I just think we have different definitions on some of the terms, which that in itself would cause us to fall at different points in the spectrum. I do think it makes it more difficult when you try to build up your own argument instead of just critiquing mine. I think Amy’s done a better job of this, so I think our dialogue has been helpful and surprisingly pleasant. We’re addressing the issues, not each other. Hopefully in the future you and I can have the same types of discussions. You can ask Amy–everything she’s written here has been posted. But I can’t really defend myself against what I perceive to be smoke and mirrors–because it becomes less about the issue and more about the people. That’s what I wanted to avoid, and that’s why I didn’t post it on BABS.

      My hope is that in the future our discussions show more civility. I apologize for getting contentious and snarky in my last comment, because that’s not really a good testimony to the other aspect of the Christian life, and that is to love God and love your neighbor. I wasn’t exactly showing that to you, so in all humility I seriously ask for your forgiveness on that. In subsequent posts, I will try to conduct myself more honorably, and in doing so maybe we can reach the goal of really breaking down the issue. Thanks for your time and understanding, Daz.

      Reply

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