The Teleological Argument – Part I

After examining the strength of the Cosmological Argument, we now turn our attention to the Teleological Argument or the Argument from Design.  The Teleological Argument is just as compelling as the Cosmological and when combined with it, provide a very strong basis for belief in God.

And just like with the Cosmological Argument, it is firmly rooted in what we know to be scientifically true.  It is not born of ignorance or some God of the Gaps reasoning.  Rather it is entirely fact-based and uses the naturalists’ supposed ally, scientific discovery, to argue against Naturalism.  It was, in fact, largely the strength of the Teleological Argument that converted well-known atheist philosopher, author, and debater Anthony Flew to a belief in God, as he details in his 2007 book “There is a God.”

The Teleological Argument Summarized

The Teleological Argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. The laws of physics, chemistry, and biology appear non-random and “finely tuned” to allow for the universe’s existence and to produce life
  2. Both the universe and life exhibit “specified complexity”
  3. Apparent fine-tuning and specified complexity indicate a purposeful design to the universe
  4. A purposeful design requires an ultimate Designer, which must be God

Fine Tuning

It is a widely accepted fact that, despite all of their potential forms, the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology are set “just right” to allow for the universe’s and life’s existence.  Renowned physicist Paul Davies says “the impression of design is overwhelming.”1  Even Stephen Hawking admits that “Our universe and its laws appear to have a design that is both tailor-made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration.”2

A few examples (from literally dozens) of this fine-tuning are:

  • The density of the early universe had to be precisely balanced to within 1 part in 1015 for it to survive and life to develop3
  • If the strong nuclear force was different by as little as 0.5%, life would not exist4
  • If protons were 0.2% heavier, they would decay into neutrons, destabilizing atoms5
  • If the ratio of the strong nuclear force to the electro-magnetic force had been different by 1 part in 1016 no stars could have formed6
  • If gravity were different by 1 part in 1040 life could not exist7
  • If the expansion of the universe was different by just 1 part in 1053 (with some estimates of up to 1 in 10120!)8, galaxies, stars, planets, and life could not have formed. This chance is equivalent to “hurling a dart from outer space and hitting a bullseye on earth that is less than the size of one atom.”9
  • Other examples include the speed of light, the earth’s distance to the sun, the degree of earth’s tilt, the strength of earth’s magnetic field, the composition of each of the different layers of our atmosphere, the size of the sun, the shape of earth’s orbit, etc.
  • Combining just the examples of fine-tuning related to allowing life on earth results in a likelihood of them all happening by chance of just 1 in 1030.10 That means to get just one planet like earth, the universe would need a million, trillion, trillion planets.  Incidentally, that is over 1 million times more planets than NASA estimates are in the universe!11

It is certainly feasible that one, or even a few, of these values could be just right by chance.  But for so many, with such a narrow range of acceptability, to have occurred randomly strains credulity.  In fact, it is statistically impossible.

“Specified Complexity”

A hallmark of intentional design is that of “specified complexity.”  Philosopher and mathematician William Dembski describes three qualities that indicate such a condition and demonstrate that something could not have occurred naturally and without purpose.  The three qualities are:  contingency, complexity, and specificity12.   In this context, something is said to be contingent if its existence is not explicable on the basis of natural law.  In other words, it didn’t “have to be that way.”  Complexity is a surrogate for probability.  The more complex it is, the less likely to have occurred by chance.  Specificity means that something exhibits a pattern that is purposeful and independent of chance13.  By examining creation through this lens, we can see that it is riddled with examples of such specified complexity.

By far the most compelling example of specified complexity is that of life on earth.  Even naturalist, atheistic scientists recognize this fact.  In The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins admits that living things have the “appearance of having been designed for a purpose”14.  Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA’s double-helix structure, acknowledges the strong appearance of design when he says “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”15  He further remarks that “the origin of life appears to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have to be satisfied to get it going.”16  However, they believe that such appearance of design, while clear and compelling, is ultimately an illusion and results from purely natural processes.  Let’s take a look to see if this is reasonable.

First, we have to realize that when Darwin formed his theory, there was no understanding of the complexity of living cells and DNA.  However, we now know that a single, “simple cell” can be compared to the functioning of an entire city!  There is a “mayor’s office” that governs its operation, a “sanitation department” that removes waste, a “police department” that maintains security, a “commerce department” that keeps it running by harnessing and metabolizing energy, a “city planning department” that seeks to replicate and expand the city, etc.  A simple cell is anything but simple and clearly has all of the hallmarks of specified complexity.

Further, there is no known process for how life can arise from non-life, despite decades of research from the world’s best and brightest scientists.  While origin of life researchers have made great strides and discoveries (ironically by intelligently manipulating and designing specific conditions!), they remain very far from creating life.  And the odds against it having happened randomly are astronomical.  The simplest cell requires hundreds of proteins, assembled in a specific way.17  But the odds of getting just one workable protein to form “naturally” have been estimated at between 1 in 1077 and 1 in 10164!18  For comparison, the number of atoms in the observable universe is estimated at between 1 times 1078 and 1 times 1082!19  It is statistically impossible for even a single protein to form naturally, let alone for hundreds of them to form at the same time, in the same place, and then assemble themselves into a functioning cell!

DNA is literally the language of life and is packed with information.  In fact, a single strand of human DNA contains the equivalent of 2 million pages of information!20  The naturalist must explain how so much information can come from non-information.  In other words, they have to explain how meaningless matter can organize itself into meaningful information that is much more than its simple material components, just as a written sentence is much more than simply ink and paper.21  In addition, DNA not only contains this much complex information, but also the ability to store, transmit, proofread, and edit it, all in a microscopic format!

With just this cursory overview, we can clearly see that life easily meets the requirements for specified complexity.  There is no natural law that requires life or DNA to exist, so contingency is established.  The complexity of living cells and DNA is obvious and immense, such that it absolutely could not have happened by chance.  Specificity is established by the information rich content required for life and its purpose of self-replication.  To this point, Bill Gates remarks that “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.”22  No one would argue that computer engineering and software are ultimately the results of natural processes.  Neither then should we accept that something “far, far more advanced” is either.

Purposeful Design Indicates God

From reviewing the factual, scientific evidence it is clear that creation bears all of the hallmarks of intentional design.  Specified complexity is intrinsic to the universe and to life.  It is statistically impossible for all of this to have happened by undirected, unplanned natural processes alone.  In addition, this apparent design seems to point strongly towards at least one potential purpose for the universe…that of creating and fostering life, and in particular, sentient, intelligent life.

In all other cases where we observe the presence of specified complexity and meaningful information, there is an intelligent, intentional author.  Even secular scientists accept this fact in every instance other than the Teleological Argument.   As an example, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has spent over 50 years and millions of dollars looking for evidence of intelligent alien life.  What evidence do they seek?  Something as simple as a non-random radio signal from outer space (such as a listing of prime numbers) would be hailed as proof of extraterrestrial intelligence.  Why is a list of prime numbers solid proof of intelligent life, but 2 million pages of genetic code, written in a distinct language that is far more complex, not also evidence of intelligent and intentional design?

Perhaps the answer is found in the implications that are necessary if the Teleological Argument is correct.  As soon as one admits that purposeful design is present, the next question must be “who is the designer?”  While the Cosmological Argument points to a creator that is eternal and immensely powerful, the Teleological Argument also reveals insight into who the designer must be.  Clearly, he must be unbelievably intelligent and creative.  We can also infer that this designer is relational since life, and ultimately intelligent life that can recognize and appreciate the design, seemed to be a key goal.  When combined with the lessons of the Cosmological Argument we get a picture that is very consistent with the Christian God.  Unfortunately, there are many people who simply don’t want to believe that such a God exists.  So they ignore the evidence that is right before their eyes.

Implications if the Teleological Argument is Wrong

While I believe many atheists reject the Teleological Argument because of the implications of its truth, it seems that few truly consider the ultimate implications if it is wrong.  If everything that exists is caused by the natural laws of physics, chemistry, and biology rather than God, then most of what we experience on a daily basis is just an illusion.  There actually are no such things as freewill, emotion, love, intelligence, consciousness, and morality.  We are simply “dancing to our DNA”23 and are little more than automatons that act and react according to immutable and deterministic natural laws.  Supporting this perspective, Stephen Hawking proclaims that we only appear to have freewill because there are so many variables involved that we can’t “do the calculations that would enable us to predict” a given action.24

If true, this implication leads to a very interesting and inescapable conclusion.  We mentioned earlier that no one would claim that computer engineering or programming resulted from undirected natural processes.  Consider, for example, the world’s most powerful supercomputer.  Clearly it was intentionally designed and is the product of intelligence.

However, the atheist is forced to believe that this computer did in fact result from nothing more than undirected physical laws.  Why?  Because the universe in which it was built, and the humans that built it, resulted from nothing but set, deterministic, and immutable natural laws acting on the matter and energy that these same laws caused to come into existence.  In other words, the world’s most advanced computer (or any other invention) was not an intentionally designed product of intelligence, but was rather destined from the beginning of time to assemble itself by natural law.  This conclusion is inescapable if naturalism is true.  But does anyone actually believe that to be the case?

Conclusion

The Teleological Argument stands as one of the chief cornerstones in the foundation for a belief in God.  And as scientific discovery has advanced, the foundation has only become stronger.  However, as with the Cosmological Argument, there are many counter points that naturalists raise to try and refute the idea of design in the universe.  It is to these arguments that we will next turn our attention.

Notes:

  1. Lennox, John C., PhD. God’s Undertaker.  Oxford, England:  Lion Books 2009.  71
  2. Hawking, Stephen and Mlodinow, Leonard. The Grand Design.  New York, NY:  Bantam Books 2010.  162
  3. Collins, Francis S. and Gibberson, Karl W.  The Language of Science and Faith.  Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press 2011.  185
  4. Hawking, Stephen and Mlodinow, Leonard. The Grand Design.  New York, NY:  Bantam Books 2010.  160
  5. Pg. 160
  6. Lennox, John C., PhD. God’s Undertaker.  Oxford, England:  Lion Books 2009.  70
  7. Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics.  Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press 2011.  252
  8. Pgs. 252-253
  9. Pg. 253
  10. Lennox, John C., PhD. God’s Undertaker.  Oxford, England:  Lion Books 2009.  72
  11. Combining information from two NASA articles: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/hubble-reveals-observable-universe-contains-10-times-more-galaxies-than-previously-thought and https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_2233.html
  1. Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics.  Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press 2011.  244
  2. Pgs. 244-245
  3. Pg. 298
  4. Pgs. 298-299.
  5. Pg. 321
  6. Brown, Walt, Ph.D. In The Beginning:  Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood.  Phoenix, AZ:  Center for Scientific Creation 2008 (8th edition).  17.
  7. a) Meyer, Stephen. Darwin’s Doubt.  New York, NY:  HarperCollins 2013.  200.
  8. b) DVD ORIGIN: Design, Chance, and the First Life on Earth; Illustra Media 2016.
  9. http://www.universetoday.com/36302/atoms-in-the-universe/#
  10. Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden. New York, NY:  Random House 1977.  25
  11. Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics.  Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press 2011.  314-315
  12. Pg. 316
  13. Paraphrased from Dawkins, Richard. River out of Eden.  United Kingdom:  Basic Books 1995.  133
  14. Hawking, Stephen and Mlodinow, Leonard. The Grand Design.  New York, NY:  Bantam Books 2010.  178
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