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Paley’s Design Argument for God
What is a Design Argument?
The Big Idea:
The universe – or at least parts of it – has a special kind of order or complexity
The best explanation of this kind of order or complexity is that it was produced by intelligence – a rational mind.
Other explanations are less plausible or likely (e.g., chance, natural processes, etc.)
Therefore, the universe – or at least parts of it – was probably intelligently designed.
This intelligent designer is God
What do we mean when we say that something is designed?
We mean, roughly, that a person of some kind intentionally made or altered something for a purpose.
A word that is often associated with the notion of design is ‘teleology’ and its derivatives, such as ‘teleological’.
Etymology: Gr., telos: end, purpose, goal
Teleological: exhibiting or relating to design or purpose, especially in nature
Thus, the design argument is often called the teleological argument
William Paley: Defender of the Design Argument
Apologist for the Christian faith
Famous for defending the design argument for God’s existence
His most famous exposition of the design argument is found in his book, Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity.
Paley on Indicators of Design
What makes us infer that a thing is designed?
How about complexity – are all complex things designed?
Well, a thing may need to be complex before we infer it’s designed, but complexity alone isn’t enough
For suppose you walked through a field and tripped on a rock.
Picking up and looking at the rock, you see that it’s complex (i.e., it has parts)
However, you do not conclude that it has been designed
So while complexity is necessary to infer design, it’s not sufficient
“In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against
a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there,
I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to
the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps
be very easy to shew the absurdity of this answer.”
-Paley, p. 46
However, suppose you walk again through the same field, but this time you trip over a watch:
Looking inside the watch, you see not only that it is complex (i.e., it has parts), but also that its parts work together to perform a function (to tell time)
In this case, you would infer that the object was designed.
“But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be enquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? Why is it not as admissible in the second case, as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz. that, when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose. . . . This mechanism being observed (it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but, being once, as we have said, observed and understood), the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker: that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.”
-Paley, pp. 46-47
Thus, Paley thinks an object must have at least two features before we think “Design!”
1) It’s complex (i.e., it has parts)
2) The parts work together to perform a
Let’s call these two features “design indicators”
Factors that are Irrelevant to Inferring that the Watch was Designed
You don’t know how to make watches yourself; nor do your know how they’re made
You’ve never observed watches being made
You don’t know anyone capable of making watches
You observe that the watch has imperfections or doesn’t always work properly
You can’t determine the function of some of the watch’s parts
Other Explanations Are Implausible
Chance: The watch was organized and framed by chance.
Self-organization: The parts have a natural tendency to organize themselves into watches.
Laws of Nature: The laws of nature operate on matter in such a way that it naturally gives rise to watches.
Infinite Regress: Parent watches have been producing baby watches forever without beginning.
Agnosticism: We should suspend judgment about the origin of the watch if we don’t know much about them.
On Our Knowledge of Design Indicators
How do we come to learn that complexity and functionality indicate design?
It doesn’t seem that it’s an innate idea, i.e., we’re not born knowing this
And it doesn’t seem to self-evident -- i.e., known by rational insight -- that they are the design indicators, either.
Compare: “All bachelors are unmarried males”, “and “nothing can be red all over and green all over at the same time”, vs. “all complex and functional things are designed”.
The first two are self-evident; the last one is not.
Rather, it seems that we learn that they are the design indicators by experience.
Step 1: we observe a constant conjunction of one type of cause (intelligence) producing one type of effect (complex, functional things). This justifies the belief that there is a causal connection between intelligence and complex, functional things.
Step 2: after our observations justify this causal connection, we no longer have to observe the cause of a thing to know that it was intelligently designed; rather, we just observe the effect (the complex, functional thing) and then infer the cause (intelligence).
Intelligence ----------> complex functional things
Intelligence<---------- complex functional things
“We see intelligence constantly producing effects, marked and distinguished by certain properties . . . such as the relation to an end, relation of parts to one another, and to a common purpose. We see . . . nothing except intelligence producing effects so marked and distinguished. Furnished with this experience, we view the products of nature. We observe them also marked and distinguished in the same manner. We wish to account for their origin. Our experience suggest a cause perfectly adequate to this account. No experience, no single instance or example, can be offered in favor of any other.”
-Paley, Natural Theology, p. 232.
Most of the things that we observe to have design indicators are human artifacts: i.e., human-made objects
However, many things in the natural world have these same design indicators – they are complex and functional
But if so, then, probably, these things were designed as well! For example:
the human eye (Paley’s favorite example)
the wing of a bird
the human circulatory system
In general: living organisms and their parts
But of course, living organisms and their parts weren’t designed by humans
And to say they were designed by, say, aliens, only pushes the issue back a step: aliens are complex and functional, and so they, too, would require a designer
So we need some designer that escapes this regress
That would require an intelligent being that’s not part of the biological realm
This being we all call ‘God’.
Paley’s Design Argument: The Analogy Interpretation
1. Human artifacts are intelligently designed.
2. Living organisms and their parts resemble human artifacts (in that they both have several parts that work together to perform a function).
3. Therefore, probably, living organisms and their parts are intelligently designed as well.
What Kind of Argument is it?
Paley’s argument is an inductive argument
According to the analogy interpretation of the argument, it’s an argument from analogy
On this interpretation, Paley argues that since two things are similar in their observed respects, they’re probably similar in their unobserved respects
Arguments from analogy have the following form:
1. X has features A, B, C
2. Y is similar to X, in that Y has A, B
3. So, probably, Y has C as well.
Y=living organisms and their parts
Feature C=being designed
How Do I Evaluate Arguments from Analogy?
Arguments from analogy have to meet three main conditions if they are to be strong inductive arguments:
1) The things compared have share a number of similarities with each other
2) These similarities are relevant
3) There are no relevant dissimilarities between the two things being compared
Application: Evaluating the Analogy Interpretation of Paley’s Design Argument
When evaluating Paley’s design argument, ask yourself three questions:
1) Are human artifacts similar to living organisms and their parts?
2) Are these similarities are relevant?
3) Are there any relevant dissimilarities between human artifacts and organisms?
Paley’s Design Argument: The Best Explanation Interpretation
Recently, some philosophers have argued that Paley’s argument isn’t an argument from analogy, but rather an inference to the best explanation.
According to these philosophers, Paley’s argument is more properly stated as follows:
There are wonders of nature: natural things, such as the eye, with parts that function well together for a clear purpose.
The best explanation of the wonders of nature is that God designed them.
If that is the best explanation, then God exists.
Therfore, God exists.
In unit 1, we discussed criteria for when a hypothesis is a good explanation of the relevant data:
Simplicity: the hypothesis adds few new assumptions to explain the data.
Scope: the hypothesis explains a wide range of data (in the best case, it explains all of it).
Conservatism: the hypothesis doesn’t conflict with other things we have good evidence for.
The simplest, most conservative hypothesis with the widest scope is the most probable one.
Therefore, when evaluating the best explanation interpretation of Paley’s design argument, ask yourself these questions:
Is the God hypothesis the simplest explanation of the data – i.e., does it have fewer new assumptions than other hypotheses?
Does the God hypothesis have the widest explanatory scope – i.e., does it explain the most data that needs explaining?
Is the God hypothesis conservative – i.e., does it conflict with other things we have good reasons or evidence for?systems