Thomas Gilby OP wrote, "Civilisation is formed by men locked together in argument." Our hope in this blog is to help generate a good healthy argument by challenging common assumptions about the question of God's existence. This blog is a resource for my students--and anyone who is interested--studying topics in the philosophy of relgion at A Level and beyond.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Arguments against ID: Genetics & Physics

Some have argued against Intelligent Design based on the principles of genetics and physics.

Apple seeds grow into apple trees because of their genetic material. This genetic material has evolved over time. Through natural selection, those things which found a way to reproduce, survived (most defenders of the teleological argument, however, do not see this as being a decisive blow against the argument, because it doesn’t explain away the argument, but simply proposes a different way in which intelligent design might be at work).

Newton’s law of gravity and Johannes Kepler’s (1571-1630) laws of planetary motion are often used to try to demonstrate that physical laws can account for the operations of the universe. For example, a falling brick from the sky is not so much an indication of a designer as it is a demonstration of gravity. Thus, intelligent purpose is thought to have been replaced by laws of physics (however, the counter-argument to this of course is that gravity and laws of physics can also be explained in terms of design).

Hume’s Criticism of Design Arguments by Analogy

Hume—writing some twenty five years before Paley—argues (in a work called Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion) that analogies between machines and the universe do not work because they assume similarities where really none ought be assumed. For example, while a useful analogy might be drawn between a frog and a man (they both have circulation, respiration, legs, etc) there is little to commend a comparison of a machine with contiguous parts and the universe with all of its violence as well as apparent order.

Furthermore, since we have no inductive knowledge of the origins of the universe (in other words, no observer was there to see under what conditions the Big Bang occurred) no one can say that it was the work of an Intelligent Designer.
And as far as beauty goes, he quotes the old adage: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Aesthetics is too subjective to be considered a serious philosophical claim.

Aesthetic Principle

An element of the anthropic principle is the aesthetic principle, which makes the claim that certain kinds of beauty have no evolutionary value. Of course evolution may give an account as to why the peacock or flower is beautiful, but does not seem to be able to account for what might be termed, “superfluous beauty”, such as a poem, a painting or even a beautiful sense of the divine. As F. R. Tennant said,

“God reveals himself in many ways and some may enter his Temple by Gate Beautiful.”

Strong Anthropic Principle & Fine-tuning

Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University, Owen Gingerich, points to the fact that the periodic table does not have any atomic mass of five; this is because atomic masses increase in weight increments of four (twelve being carbon, which is necessary for life). Yet the periodic table not only contains everything necessary for life, it lacks nothing necessary for life. It is finely-tuned.
Other scholars, such as physicist Robert Dicke, have noticed how this fine-tuning could not have occurred randomly. In fact, human evolution is controlled by certain factors that ensure human existence. If evolutionary changes were completely random, natural selection would not be evident because it would not be possible.

"Irreducibly Complex Organisms"

Among modern supporters of teleological arguments are the likes of biochemist Michael Behe whose book Darwin’s Black Box suggests that some organisms are, as he calls them, “irreducibly complex”. Such organisms—or ‘moleular machines’—can not be subject to an evolutionary process because to function they must exist in toto or not at all. Behe argues that there are numerous example of molecular machines, such as the cilium: a hair-like machine that moves fluid over animal cells. It is composed of many parts, each needing the other in order to operate. It could not have evolved just as a mousetrap could not have evolved because all functioning parts are required simultaneously for it to work.

3 Kinds of Design Argument

There are various forms of the argument: an argument from analogy, and argument from final cause and the anthropic argument.

Argument from analogy

The best known design argument or argument from analogy is that of William Paley, who likened the observation of the universe to the discovery of a “watch upon a heath.” In the case of the watch, one would know—even if they had never seen a watch before—that this object, with all of its working parts, was not the random product of chance but of a intelligent designer. Other forms of the argument were put forward by the medieval Jewish scholar, Rabbeinu Bachya who likened the order in the universe to writing on a piece of paper. The idea that an essay, he maintained, could be the result of an ink spill on the page is absurd:

“Do you not realize that if ink were poured out accidentally on a blank sheet of paper, it would be impossible that proper writing should result, legible lines that are written with a pen? Imagine a person bringing a sheet of handwriting that could only have been composed with a pen. He claims that ink spilled on the paper and these written characters had accidentally emerged. We would charge him to his face with falsehood, for we could feel certain that this result could not have happened without an intelligent person's purpose.”

Final Cause Argument

An Argument relying on the concept of final cause (this kind of argument is called teleological properly being derived from the Greek word, telos, which means ‘end’) has most famously been brought forward by St Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century.

This kind of design argument is based on the Aristotelian concept of causation. According to Aristotle, everything that exists has a material, formal, efficient and final cause. The final cause points to the purpose of the thing—and purpose implies design.

Thomas uses the analogy of an arrow being shot at a target; just as the arrow must be directed towards a target by an archer, so too must anything that is directed towards a final end be directed by an Intelligence.

Anthropic Arguments

More recently—and especially with increasing knowledge about chemistry, astronomy and physics—arguments have been put forward by scholars that argue that the universe and planet earth are not only friendly to the production of life, but have exactly the right conditions to make life possible.

Barrow and Tipler have classified the principle as being either ‘weak’ (WAP) or ‘strong’ (SAP). The WAP states that the fact that we can observe the universe means that the conditions must be perfect for such an observation to take place. The appeal of this form of the argument for many is that the God of traditional or classical theism does not need to be invoked to accept it. The SAP, principle however holds that the fine-tuning of the universe not only makes life possible but necessary—suggesting a deliberate and intelligent act to bring the observer into being.

Design (Teleological) Arguments

Teleological arguments (also known as Design Arguments) are generally inductive, a posteriori arguments that attempt to prove the existence of God with the claim that since the characteristics of order, purpose and benefit evident throughout the universe imply designer, the universe therefore must have been designed.
Although these kinds of argument are often called arguments from design (that is, drawing conclusions about God based on the observation of design), Anthony Flew insists that they are properly called arguments to design. This is because, he maintains, ‘design’ is the conclusion of the argument, not something self-evident from which the argument is drawn.