Teleological/design arguments

AQA Philosophy
Metaphysics of God

The design argument from analogy as presented by Hume

P1 – The way that the means of complexity is fitted to ends in nature is analogous to human design.
P2 – like effects have like causes.
P3 – the cause of artefacts (human-made things) is an intelligent mind.
C1 – Therefore, the cause of the universe is an intelligent mind.

William Paley’s argument from special order/purpose

Design qua Purpose is Paley’s argument that the combination of complexity and purpose are best explained by a designer.

Paley illustrates this with the example of a watch. If you were walking on a heath and came across a watch, you couldn’t argue it had come about by chance nor been there forever because it has Complexity & Purpose. This must mean it had a designer – a watch maker. Paley then points out there are also things in the universe that are complex and have a purpose. He points out in particular the complexity of the Human eye which is arranged to fulfil the purpose of enabling us to see. He also points to the wings of a bird and fins of a fish which are examples of complexity fitted together to perform a purpose of flying and swimming.

“Every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature.”

Since complexity and purpose in a watch tells us there must have been a watch making, similarly the complexity and purpose in the universe tells us that there must have been a universe maker: God.

Design qua Regularity is another type of design argument made by Paley which draws on the observation of the order found in Newtonian physics. Paley pointed to the rotations of planets in the solar system and how they obey the same universal laws as shown by Newton’s laws of motion and gravity. Paley argued that unless gravity consistently has the strength it does within a narrow boundary, then the planets would be unable to maintain their order and life on earth could not exist. Similarly, why is the universe regular and not chaotic? This could not have come about by chance.

Swinburne’s design argument from temporal order/regularity  

Swinburne argues that modern discoveries of science provide evidence for a designer.

There are temporal regularities: e.g the element of carbon has the same properties now as it did 10 billion years ago. Why should that be? Hydrogen in our part of the universe behaves in exactly the same was as Hydrogen across the other side of the universe. There are only a few laws which sum up all of nature. Everything in the universe is composed of around 12 fundamental sub-atomic particles. All of this orderliness persists throughout time which makes it temporal order, suggesting physical laws.

This all requires explanation, Swinburne argues. We should not expect such order to exist by chance.

Swinburne claims that science tells us the what but not the why. Science can only discover the laws of nature but cannot tell us why there are laws. Science cannot even explain why the universe can even be understood by science at all. =

These are 4 things Swinburne thinks science cannot explain:

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why are there laws of nature at all?
  • Why are there the laws there are, rather than other laws?
  • Why are the laws that exist so perfect for human existence, when so many others are possible?

Number 4 is sometimes called ‘fine tuning’. If the laws of our universe, such as the charge of the election, were a tiny degree greater or lesser, life could not exist at all. Swinburne thinks it is unimaginably unlikely for all these things to happen exactly as they do by chance.

Science cannot explain the existence, orderliness and fine-tuning of the physical laws that enable temporal order. Swinburne points out that there is another sort of explanation, personal explanation. This involves an intelligent mind creating a temporal order.

The only available and therefore best explanation is a personal explanation Only a God would have the power to have designed and created the laws of physics. So, God exists.

Hume’s unique case argument applied to Swinburne. Hume insists that there is a standard of empirical evidence required to justifiably infer design.

Swinburne claims that because science cannot explain temporal order, personal explanation is the best explanation.

However, it seems that Hume would respond that Swinburne is not justified in relying on an inference to the best explanation style argument. Hume thinks that unless we have empirical evidence of the creation of the universes, or other universe to compare ours to, then we are not justified in inferring design. Without such experience, we should suspend judgement.

Swinburne could be correct that an analogy between temporal order in the physical laws of the universe and human creation of temporal order is the best explanation we have.

Swinburne could even be correct that science will never be able to provide us with a better explanation.

Yet, according to Hume, this is irrelevant. The wise person proportions their belief to the evidence. We have insufficient evidence to judge whether the universe is designed. Even our best explanation is not empirically valid and so we should suspend judgement and accept that we do not know why the universe is the way it is.

Hume’s objections to the design argument from analogy

Hume argues that it doesn’t follow from the similarity of two effects that they must have had similar causes. For example, the smoke produced by fire and dry ice is very similar, but their causes not similar. So, just because the effect of the universe and the effect of a a man-made thing like a house (Hume’s example) or a watch are like each other in that they both have complexity and purpose, it doesn’t follow that the cause of the universe must be like the cause of a house/watch i.e., a designer. Two effects which are alike (analogous) might in fact have very different causes.

Hume highlights this by pointing to our utter ignorance of the state of nature during the beginning of the universe:

“Can you claim to show any such similarity between the structure of a house and the generation of a universe? Have you ever seen nature in a situation that resembles the first arrangement of the elements ·at the beginning of the universe·?” – Hume.

Even if we could claim an analogy between natural things and man-made things, for all we know there may be no analogy between their origin.

Hume argues further that we can’t even claim analogy between artefacts and natural objects. Artifacts are mechanical, but the universe appears more organic.

Paley’s argument is arguably not based on an analogy. Modern philosophers tend to read Paley’s argument as not being based on an analogy between artefacts and the universe. His argument is that there is a property which requires a designer; the property of complexity and purpose – parts fitted together in a complex way to perform a purpose. When a complex of individually complex parts are fitted together in a meticulous way so as to achieve an overall function/purpose, it seems almost impossible for that to have come about by pure chance. A better explanation is a designing mind. Man-made things have this property but so too do natural things like the eye. Therefore, nature requires a designer because it has this property, not because of any analogy to man-made things. The watch is merely an illustration. We know the universe is designed because it has complexity and purpose.

Hume and Paley on the problem of spatial disorder

Hume points out that we have very imperfectly observed a very small part of the universe, over a very short period of time. This could be taken to suggest that we have far too small a basis of evidence to conclude that the universe is orderly overall. For all we know, there could be far more chaos in the universe than order.

Furthermore, we already know that there are cast areas of the universe that do not involve complex intricate parts fitted together to perform a purpose. Most of the universe seems completely desolate.

Paley responds that inferring design from order in the universe does not depend on the amount of order outweighing the amount of disorder. If there is any order in the sense of the organisation of parts fitted together to perform a purpose, then that suggests a designer created it. Paley illustrates this by considering an alteration to his example of the watch – if it was broken or missing one of its hands. Even if that order were incomplete and mixed with disorder in that way, we would still conclude the watch had a designer. Even a broken watch is designed.

However, if the amount of disorder in the universe were large enough compared to the amount of order, then it could plausibly mean that the order is the result of chance.

Hume’s unique case critique of the design argument

Hume challenges the idea that we could possibly know that complexity and purpose must be caused by a designer in the case of the universe. He contends that inferring the existence of one thing from the existence of another thing requires experience of their constant conjunction. It follows that if we want to infer a designer from an object, we need experience of that object being made by that designer. For example, in the case of a house, justifiably inferring a designer requires experience of houses being made. Yet, regarding the universe, we clearly do not have such experience.

“But it is hard to see how this pattern of argument can be appropriate in our present case, where the objects we are considering don’t fall into sorts, but are single, individual, without parallel or specific resemblance.“

All we experience is the universe itself, not the origin of the universe, not any creator conjoined with it. We have one unique case and no basis on which to infer anything about its origin.

“To make this reasoning secure, we would need to have had experience of the origins of worlds”

Hume concludes that the origin of the universe, “exceeds all human reason and enquiry.” So, Hume concludes that we lack the required experience to justify inferring the existence of a God from the existence of our world. The only rational thing to do in such cases is to suspend judgement.

“A very small part of this great system, during a very short time, is very imperfectly discovered to us; and do we thence pronounce decisively concerning the origin of the whole?” – Hume.

Hume’s argument doesn’t apply to the watch. Paley’s argument rests on the premise that we know a watch is designed by its complexity and purpose. Arguably a person could come across a watch and would know it was designed, even if they had never seen watching being made or even heard of how they were made. So, it looks like Paley is right that someone can know something is designed by its complexity and purpose, and that Hume is wrong to think that experience of the causal process that originated it is required to know whether it was designed.

Actually it does. However, Hume’s point is that even if someone got the correct idea that a thing is designed by observing its complexity and purpose, they actually don’t have justified knowledge. It’s possible for someone to get a correct idea through unjustified means. Paley could even be right that complexity and purpose is the feature of the watch that tempts us to the conclusion that it was designed, but that doesn’t justify the belief that the watch was designed. Even though the belief be true, it may be false for anything they know, because they lack justification. The only way to know a watch is designed is to see it being made.

Whether God is the best or only explanation

Hume’s Epicurean hypothesis

Epicures was an ancient Greek philosopher who thought the universe was had existed infinitely and was composed of atoms. Hume pointed out that if Epicures was correct, then a chaotic random universe, given an infinite amount of time, will by complete chance occasionally assemble itself into an orderly one. The atoms will happen to collide in such a way that an orderly arrangement of them will come about. On an infinite time scale, if something can possibly happen then no matter how low the probability, it becomes 100% guaranteed to happen. Not just once, but an infinite number of times! For example if monkeys were randomly banging away on typewriters for an infinite amount of time, then they would produce the entire works of Shakespeare. Similarly, a chaotic universe of randomly moving and fluctuating objects will happen to coalesce into an orderly arrangement given an infinite time frame.           

Defence: Currently the view of science is that time began at the big bang however, therefore there has not been an infinite amount of time.

Counter-defence: Perhaps there were infinite universes before ours or an infinite number of universes (multiverse theory). Rather than a regular universe occurring by chance due to an infinite time-frame, instead it could be that a regular universe occurred by chance due to there being an infinite number of every type (regular and chaotic) of universe.

Swinburne’s defence: However, there is very little evidence for the multiverse theory. Polkinghorne agrees and claims that the multiverse theory is a ‘bold speculation’, a ‘metaphysical guess’.