Courses

3. Teleological argument (design)

       The last of the viable arguments raised for the existence of God is the teleological -- that is, the argument from design. It goes this way: if one finds a beautiful watch, one is legitimate in assuming a designer and builder for that watch. Are you not far more intricate than the finest watch? Isn't it reasonable to assume a designer for you?
       The teleological argument is an argument by analogy. Lehrer states that such arguments can be summarized as follows:

1. These three objects have these ten properties in common.
2. Two of these three objects also have this eleventh property in common. Therefore, probably
3. This third object also has this eleventh property in common with the other two.

       Of course, in even the best of cases, we have nothing more definite than probability; certainty can never be arrived at by using an analogy. Note too, that all the available evidence must be considered if a statement such as that in point number 3 is to be justified in this way, since there are certain kinds of factors which decrease the probability of the conclusion. Therefore, as with any inductive argument, the requirement to use all available evidence is essential.
       According to Lehrer, there are four factors which can affect the probability of any conclusion:

1. The greater the number of objects which have the ten properties in common, the more probable the conclusion becomes.
2. The greater the number of properties which all the objects have in common, the more probable the conclusion becomes.
3. The greater the number of objects that have the ten properties in common but that lack the critical eleventh property, the less probable the conclusion becomes.
4. And most important, the stronger the claim made in the conclusion, relative to the premise, the less probable that conclusion becomes.

       Thus Philo, presented with the teleological argument, objected that many complex, machine-like things exist in the universe that have a demonstrably natural cause. The analogy between the universe and machines breaks down because of the third point we just saw above. Lehrer, summarizing Philo's argument, wrote:

       We can find intricate order, design, and beauty in a flower, bush, or tree, and all of these are brought about not by an intelligent being but come from a seed in the ground which receives water and sunlight. In none of these four factors--seed, earth, water, sunlight--is there any hint of intelligence. Furthermore, consider a beautiful Persian cat, a peacock, exotic tropic fish, or even a particular human being. The ordering of parts of such organisms, the interrelating functioning of parts, the beauty of many of them are all the causal result of the fertilization of an egg in an act of animal reproduction....What grounds are there for picking one from among four quite different causes of order and design? It is no less reasonable to claim, and therefore no less probable, that the earth and the other parts of the universe have sprouted from some seed or matured from some egg fertilized eons ago, or some residual part of the instinctive production of some animal long since extinct, than to claim that it is the planned result of some unseen being with great intelligence....because intelligence is only one among many things in this world that produce order and design, there is no reason to think it is any more probable that an intelligent being produced the universe than that one of the other causes of order and design produced the universe. [Lehrer, pp. 374-376]

       But there is a problem with Philo's argument; it is made less reasonable by noting some thoughts Norman L. Geisler had on the subject:

       Nor...would it change the matter were we to discover that behind the forehead of a stone face was a computer capable of reproducing other faces on nearby cliffs by laser beams. This would only enhance our respect for the intelligence which designed such a computer. And, furthermore, were we to find that this computer was designed by another computer we would still not give up our belief in an intelligent cause. In fact, we would have an even greater admiration for the intelligence it takes to create computers which can also create. Further, would we not consider it strange if anyone suggested there was no need for an intelligent cause because there might be an infinite regress of computers designing computers? We know that increasing the number of computers in the series does not diminish the need for intelligence to program the whole series. [Geisler, Origin Science. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987, p. 161]

       So, the fact that animals and plants reproduce has little bearing on the question of design, since such reproduction is itself a complex and amazing thing. The teleological argument is certainly not dead; in fact it remains very compelling, because the more that is discovered about life and the universe, the more chance without design seems an unreasonable explanation for existence.