NOVEL TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENTS
OSAKUADE, OLUWANIFEMI WILLIAMS
DOKITA Editorial Board Member
Do you think that the course of the world is random and haphazard, or do you believe that it is guided by reason? —Boethius
A teleological argument is more simply known as an argument from design. An argument from design is an argument for God’s reality based on the fact that the world looks much as if it was designed (1).
Teleological arguments have a long and venerable history in the philosophy of religion, stretching back from Socrates (according to Xenophon) down through Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Paul, Boethius, Aquinas, Paley, and Swinburne now today (2). Perhaps the most rhetorically powerful expression of the teleological argument was given by William Paley in 1802 in his Natural Theology. Paley attempted to prove the existence of God by laying out the adaptations present in biological organisms which permit them to perform several functions, and to perform those functions well (2). His work was judged impressive, influential, and quite convincing throughout the first half of the nineteenth century (3).
However, in the second half of the same century, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species appeared. Many became convinced that blind unguided natural processes (like random mutation acting on natural selection) are adequate to account for the biological adaptations described by Paley and that those adaptations could indeed have arisen without the aid of an intelligent designer. So, Paley’s teleological argument fell out of favour (2).
While many since then have been of the opinion that science has explained away all appearance of design, I intend in this paper to bring to our attention certain aspects of reality which appear designed and have not (perhaps even cannot) be explained by science. These unnoticed aspects are much discussed in the philosophical literature (1-2, 4-6) but sadly very little of the work done is heard outside the academy.
TWO NEW ARGUMENTS
We will examine two new teleological arguments:
- The Argument from Fine Tuning
- The Argument from Temporal Order
1. THE ARGUMENT FROM FINE TUNING
We are speaking here of the fine tuning of the universe for life. The term fine tuning simply means that it looks as if small changes in this universe’s basic features would make evolution of life impossible (1).
Since after the late 1970s, physicists and cosmologists have been informing us of discoveries of very precise and tight constraints placed on the constants of some fundamental physical laws and on the initial conditions of the universe (2). If these constraints were only slightly exceeded, life (especially intelligent life) could not form in the universe (2).
Dyson Freeman (7), Princeton mathematician and physicist, expresses the basic idea in this way: ‘There are many lucky accidents in physics. Without such accidents, water would not exist as liquid, chains of carbon atoms could not form complex organic molecules, and hydrogen atoms could not form breakable bridges between molecules.”
EXAMPLES OF FINE TUNING
- If the initial explosion of the big bang had differed in strength by as little as one part in 10^60, the universe would either have quickly collapsed back on itself, or it would have expanded too rapidly for stars to form. Thus, life would have been impossible (4, 8). An accuracy of 1 part in 10 raised to the power of 60 can be compared to firing a bullet at a 1-inch target on the other side of the observable universe 20 billion light years away and hitting the target (4).
- If the strong nuclear force, the force that binds protons and neutrons together in an atom, had been stronger or weaker by as little as 5%, life would have been impossible (4, 8).
- If gravity had been stronger or weaker by one part in 10 raised to the power of 40, then life-sustaining stars like the Sun could not exist. Thus, making life highly improbable (4, 8).
- If the neutron were not about 1.001 times the mass of the proton, all protons would have decayed into neutrons or all neutrons would have decayed into protons and thus, life would not be possible (4).
- If the electromagnetic force were slightly stronger or weaker, life would be impossible for a variety of different reasons (4, 8).
THE PRIME PRINCIPLE OF CONFIRMATION
From the examples above we observe that the universe is indeed finely tuned. But how do we draw conclusion from the available data? How do we move from fine tuning to design? Or to theism? We need a theory of evidence or of epistemic support. That theory is the Prime Principle of Confirmation, viz: Whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses, an observation counts as evidence in favour of the hypothesis under which the observation has the highest probability or is the least improbable (4).
For example, imagine if Bob Williams went off into a mountain for hiking and on getting there he observes a pile of rocks arranged to spell out the name BOB WILLIAMS. Now Bob Williams would want to come up with a hypothesis on how those rocks happened to spell his name. He might suppose that mere natural processes and chance somehow arranged the rocks to spell his name. But consider if he has reason to think that his brother had gone hiking into this mountain before, he now has another hypothesis: that his brother arranged the rocks to spell his name.
Now it seems vastly more probable that Bob Williams’ brother arranged the rocks to spell his name rather than that the rocks just happened to spell his name by chance and natural processes. Therefore, by the prime principle of confirmation, since the observation of the name spelled by the rocks is more probable under the hypothesis that his brother arranged those rocks, then this “brother hypothesis” is confirmed by this observation rather than the “natural process and chance hypothesis.”
THE ARGUMENT FORMULATED
- Premise 1: The existence of fine-tuning is not improbable under theism.
- Premise 2: The existence of fine-tuning is very improbable under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.
- Conclusion: From premises (1) and (2) and the Prime Principle of Confirmation, it follows that the fine-tuning data provides strong evidence to favour the theistic/design hypothesis over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.
Support for Premise 1
Premise 1 seems uncontroversially true. This is because if God is an all good being and if it is good that intelligent conscious beings exist, then it is not improbable that God would make a world that supports intelligent life (4).
Support for Premise 2
Premise 2 appears to be true also. For in an atheistic single-universe, the universe has these narrow life-permitting conditions simply by chance. To see how implausible this is, consider this analogy: let the whole range of fundamental physical constants be a dartboard the size of the galaxy, and the range of life-permitting constants be a foot-long target on this large dartboard. The atheistic single-universe hypothesis would have us believe that a dart was thrown blindly and landed on the target by chance. This is clearly most improbable (4).
If the Prime Principle of Confirmation is true and if premises (1) and (2) are true then theism is confirmed by the evidence of fine tuning over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis. Note that this conclusion is rather cautious. Perhaps there is other evidence that confirms atheism over theism. But this argument does establish that theism is strongly supported by the truth of fine-tuning over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis (4).
THE ATHEISTIC MANY-UNIVERSE HYPOTHESIS EXPLAINED
This hypothesis, more commonly known as the “Multiverse theory,” postulates an infinite or near-infinite number of universes that exist or are generated either simultaneously or sequentially (4). If a very large number of universes are being randomly generated, it should not surprise us (or it is not improbable) that eventually at least one of these universes would have the fundamental constants and initial conditions which fall into the life-permitting range. If we are in such a universe, it is no wonder that it appears to be fine-tuned; it could not have been otherwise. Thus is a finely tuned universe rendered likely even under atheism (4).
THE ATHEISTIC MANY-UNIVERSE HYPOTHESIS CHALLENGED
- Higher level fine-tuning: It seems that whatever mechanism that continually generates universes would need to be fine-tuned itself as it would be working under a special set of physical laws. The question then arises: why those exact physical laws? So, the question of fine-tuning has not been answered, but only pushed to a higher level (4, 9).
- Boltzmann brain problems: Roger Penrose estimates that it is overwhelmingly more likely that our universe, if generated from a high entropy randomly acting universe generator, would be no larger than the size of our solar system (10). But we do observe a very large universe (which is improbable given the Atheistic Many-Universe Hypothesis). So, it is more probable that a very small universe is generated with several illusionary appearances (of the age and size of this universe, for example) than that the vast observable universe we see is randomly generated. In fact, what is most probable is a single brain being spontaneously generated, lasting for just a fleeting moment, but with illusionary perception of “the world around.” This is a Boltzmann brain (1, 9).
- A speculative and extravagant theory: Consider that the theory postulates an infinite or near infinite number of universes, all of which are being generated by some universe-generating-mechanism and all of which are causally separated from each other. So, we can never get any direct evidence of the existence of these entities. Therefore, the theory seems speculative (1, 4, 9). According to superstring theorist Brian Greene (11), ‘It will be extremely hard, if not impossible, for us ever to know if the multiverse theory is true.’ As for extravagance, simplicity in explanation is always a theoretical advantage but “to postulate an infinite number of universes never causally connected to one another, merely to avoid the hypothesis of theism is the height of irrationality” (6, p.185). So says Richard Swinburne, an Oxford emeritus professor of Philosophy.
So, we see from the above that there are serious challenges with the atheistic many-universe hypothesis. It seems to be a rather implausible theory and so is not a good candidate for explaining the fine-tuning of the universe. In the end we are more likely to observe a finely-tuned universe under theism rather than under atheism. Therefore, the fine-tuning of the universe serves as evidence for the truth of theism (4).
2. THE ARGUMENT FROM TEMPORAL ORDER
This is simply an argument from the regularity of behavior of objects as codified in the laws of nature (12). The laws of nature, which can be found in any chemistry or physics textbook, describe the behaviour of all particles in our universe. These laws are also simple and can be mathematically expressed as formulae. The regularity at the atomic level leads to regular and predictable behavior in medium-sized objects such that intelligent agents like man and higher animals may learn how the world works and can then use that knowledge to make decisions. This sort of temporal order may also be called causal order (2).
We can speak of the world as regular and law-governed because each and every particle and particle type in the universe, no matter how separated in time or space from the other, all act in the same way. They all have the same powers and liabilities to exercise those powers as all the rest.
Now it is amazing that anything should exist at all. It is all the more amazing that a very great number of things should exist and should all behave in exactly the same way (12). In other words, that the universe exists at all is surprising. That it exists and is well ordered is very surprising because it seems more probable that the universe would be chaotic (10, 12).
THE ARGUMENT FORMULATED
- Premise 1: The universe exhibits causal order.
- Premise 2: If there is no God, causal order is very improbable.
- Premise 3: If there is a God, causal order is relatively probable.
- Conclusion: Hence God’s existence is confirmed by the existence of causal order.
Support for Premise 1
There is little controversy here. The universe is an orderly place where events take place in a regular and predictable manner in accordance with the laws of nature. As a result of this order, humans and higher animals can understand and predict how the world would act and use that knowledge to make significant decisions.
Support for Premise 2
Science cannot explain why everything acts regularly or behaves in a law-like manner. Science can only explain some laws by grounding them on some more basic laws. For example, we may explain why objects obey the law of gravity by appealing to more fundamental laws like Quantum Theory and General Relativity. Perhaps, objects obey Quantum Theory and General Relativity because there is a more fundamental Grand Unified Theory (GUT). Even if this so, science has not still explained why all objects or particles act in exactly the manner described by the GUT. And indeed, it cannot (12, 14). This is because science normally explains more local laws by grounding them on more fundamental laws. However, a GUT is supposed to be the most fundamental law (13). So, there is no more basic law to which we can scientifically appeal. Therefore, it will be unexplainable by science why every particle just happens to behave in the manner described by the GUT. In a Godless universe all the objects just act in this GUT-described manner as a brute fact and by sheer coincidence. Certainly, this is implausible and cries out for explanation (2, 12, 14).
Support for Premise 3
Order makes for beauty and beauty is better than ugliness. A chaotic universe is ugly. Because beauty is a good thing, it seems likely that God would create an orderly (hence a beautiful) world (12, 14).
Also, it is good for creatures to exist who can grow in knowledge and power. Causal order allows us to see patterns of cause and effect in the world and then use that knowledge to manipulate the world for our own purposes. We observe that seeds which fall in the ground grow, bread nourishes us, intense heat can melt iron and so on. All these cause-and-effect events are due to regularities of objects and particles both at the macroscopic and at the microscopic levels. We can then use this knowledge to improve our lives, avoid danger, help our neighbours, grow our civilisations and do much more. We may also choose to use this knowledge to starve and maim our neighbours. Or we may choose to do nothing whatsoever with the knowledge.
However, we may have a chaos in the following scenarios: where events are so erratic that we cannot discern the relationships between cause and effect; or in a universe where the laws are so complex we cannot understand them; or where there are regularities at the particle level, but when the particles come together to form medium-sized objects they act so erratically that we cannot understand them. We would not be able to learn or to make substantial choices in such a world. The point is: it is a good thing to have creatures who can learn and grow in knowledge, power over their environment, and in moral character. Causal order makes that possible. Therefore, God will likely create a universe with temporal order (2, 6, 12, 14).
If you recall our Prime Principle of Confirmation, you should see how the conclusion follows. Temporal order is not improbable under theism. But it is very improbable under atheism. Therefore, temporal order is an evidence for God’s existence (6, 12, 14).
While we may dispute whether Darwin has driven design out of biology, we can clearly see that he has not driven out teleology from the universe. We looked at two new design arguments: one is based on very recent scientific discoveries; the other is independent of science and aims to even explain the basis of science. We see that God [or some very intelligent, and powerful immaterial being (14, 15)] is the best explanation of the appearance of design in the world. This conclusion is important for several reasons.
- Design in the universe joins a constellation of other features of our world which are better explained given theism rather than atheism. Such features include moral values, moral knowledge, a universe of finite age, beauty, why there is something rather than nothing, consciousness and some oddities many call miracles (5-6, 9, 12, 16).
- The conclusion that the world is not an accident but was intentionally made helps in coping with existential angst amidst crisis (17).
- It gives theists justification for their beliefs and also self-esteem in the face of cultural-intellectual snobbery (18).
Now to the two arguments presented above there are a thousand objections and ten thousand counter-objections (2, 4, 15). But I will have achieved my aim if this presentation has been able to fire up our curiosity and increase our confidence in interaction with those who are otherwise-minded.
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