The Teleological Argument – Part II (Critical Responses)

As with the Cosmological Argument, we will now examine the primary claims against the Teleological Argument…

“There is only the appearance of design, caused by billions of years of evolution.”

One of the most popular claims against the Teleological Argument is that we only see what appears to be design in life, not actual pre-planned intent.  This illusion is created by natural selection which is enormously efficient at “rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good.”1  Since natural selection “weeds out” the unfit life forms, what we are left with appears to be perfectly designed to survive in a given environment.  In reality, it only appears that way because those life forms that couldn’t survive didn’t.  So effective “design” is actually created from the “bottom up” by natural selection rather than from the “top down” by some mythological God.2

There are at least three problems with this argument.  The first is what I’ll call the “common sense response.”  The old adage “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck” comes to mind.  If we see evidence of design all around us, it is most likely to be actual design.  Dawkins and others would have us believe that what “looks like a duck” it is actually an amoeba that spent millions of years perfecting a duck impersonation.  Granted, the “common sense response” is only a logical argument, not conclusive proof.  Fortunately, we have two more arguments to discuss.

The second problem with this viewpoint is that it doesn’t ultimately solve the issue.  Evolution only addresses the apparent design within the realm of life.  It cannot address any of the fine-tuning statistics related to the creation and survival of the universe itself (e.g. the strength of gravity, speed of light, cosmological constant, etc.).  Since the odds of those properties having the values they do are arguably worse than those required for life to begin, the evolution answer avoids the more difficult question.

The final, and most serious, challenge facing the evolution argument is that it simply doesn’t work as advertised.  We’ve discussed the challenges facing evolution in several posts (here, here, and here), but a summary is in order here.

First, random mutation is simply the wrong mechanism to drive the large-scale changes in body parts and plans required for evolution.3  Secondly, the fossil record does not show anything resembling the slow, gradual changes described by evolution.4  Thirdly, the odds of getting living cells or even a single protein to form randomly, as we discussed earlier, are statistically impossible.  Finally, the vast amounts of non-random information, written in a literal language within DNA, cannot be accounted for by anything other than an intelligent source.  Aware of all of these challenges, even secular evolutionists are desperately trying to find a workable mechanism to save neo-Darwinian evolution.5

“We see design happen in nature without God all the time.”

This response is pretty much a red herring.  We do see simple patterns and designs occur in nature such as snowflakes, crystalline structures, etc.  But these are simple designs and repeating patterns, not specified complexity and information.  It is like comparing “ABCABC” to the works of Shakespeare.  We have never observed the latter form of specified complexity result from natural processes or anything other than intentional, purposeful, intelligent design.

“The Multiverse Theory explains the apparent design in the universe.”

The most popular naturalistic explanation for the apparent design in the universe seems to be the multiverse theory.  By positing a practically infinite number of universes, naturalists say that the fine-tuning of our universe is no big deal.  With enough chances, anything can and will happen.  In other words, the impossible becomes inevitable.  Or so that is the story.

As we have discussed before, the multiverse is more a matter of faith than any religion.  There is no evidence for it and not even a means of testing it.  Therefore, it is a philosophical construct to avoid the need for God, not a real scientific proposition.6  As highly respected physicist, and former Steven Hawking collaborator, Sir Roger Penrose states, the multiverse is “an excuse for not having a good theory.”7

The ironic thing about the multiverse theory is that even if it is true, it offers no relief to the atheist.  The multiverse may explain the apparent fine-tuning of physical properties within our universe, but it does nothing to explain the beginning and complexity of life or the origin of DNA’s information.  Furthermore, it makes the Cosmological Argument potentially more difficult to answer.  If one universe created from nothing is hard to explain, how is an infinite number somehow better?

Finally, there is no inherent reason that one must make a choice between God or a multiverse.8  They are not logically opposing or contradicting alternatives and the existence or non-existence of one says nothing about the other.  Given these challenges, the fact that the multiverse is the atheist’s best explanation shows the ultimate weakness of their position.

“Fine tuning is an illusion because the universe’s laws couldn’t have been different than they are.”

Another argument to try and debunk design is that the laws of nature are not finely tuned but rather “had no choice” than to be the way they are.  In other words, they are what they are by definition, not design.  So we shouldn’t be surprised by it.  But there are several problems with this perspective.

First, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the forces of nature are what they are by definition.9  Not only is there no evidence to suggest it is true, but there is also no way to scientifically test the premise.  It is purely ad hoc reasoning and must be taken as an article of faith to avoid a belief in God.

Secondly, to hold to this position is actually contrary to the atheist’s favorite argument against fine-tuning, the multiverse.  Since the multiverse theory holds that an infinite number of universes must exist in order to get one like our “finely tuned” version, it assumes that the fundamentals of nature are not set, but vary with each universe.  So the atheist must decide.  Either the fundamentals of nature are not set by definition or there is no multiverse.  They can’t have it both ways.

Finally, if the fundamentals of the universe are set by definition, it ultimately offers no comfort to the atheist anyway.  Because then one has to wonder “why are the fundamentals of nature set by definition to allow for creation from nothing and for life to exist?”  If there is some over-riding “Theory of Everything” that dictates the laws of nature, then where did this Theory of Everything come from?10  In the end, this argument really only pushes the need for God back one step, but it does not eliminate it.

Conclusion

Just as with the Cosmological Argument, the counter-points raised by naturalists fall flat.  They may initially sound compelling, but are ultimately revealed for what they are…desperate grasps at anything other than God that are either simply wrong or significantly more “faith based” than atheists criticize Christians for being!

Notes:

  1. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion.  New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin 2006.  190
  2. Pg. 99
  3. Meyer, Stephen. Darwin’s Doubt.    New York, NY:  HarperCollins 2013. Pg. 281
  4. Pgs. 6-17
  5. Prologue pg. ix
  6. Lennox, John C. God and Stephen Hawking.  Oxford, England:  Lion Books 2011.  49
  7. Pg. 50
  8. Pg. 49
  9. Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics.  Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press 2011.  263
  10. Pg. 263
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