Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Design (Outtake from my Book)

A sense or intimation of design in nature is not uncommon. In The Blind Watchmaker, Ardent atheist and Darwinist, Richard Dawkins, writes that “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of being designed,”although he spends the rest of the book arguing that this appearance is deceptive. Despite Kant’s rejection of design arguments, he spoke of the divine wonder associated with “the starry heavens above.” Are there sound arguments available for a Designer? This and the following chapter explore these issues in several dimensions. Although we will add sophistication to following argument, the structure of the argument from design boils down to several basic points.

1. The universe as a whole and/or significant parts of it, evidence certain patterns and structures that indicate design (such as complexity, simplicity, beauty, human rationality, and so on); that is, the work of intelligence.

2. Alternative naturalistic explanations for this apparent design—essentially some combination of impersonal chance and impersonal natural laws—cannot adequately explain this phenomena.

3. Therefore, these phenomena are best explained by a designing, personal intelligence outside of nature.

4. This designing, personal intelligence outside of nature is God.

Along with the other theistic arguments, the argument from design (or the teleological argument) had been dismissed and ridiculed by many philosophers until recent decades. For example, Russell’s famous essay, “Why I am not a Christian,” devotes less than two pages to refuting the argument. After invoking Darwin’s account of nature, he says, “It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them [living creatures] but that they grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.” He then appeals to the “defects” of the world—such as the Klu Klux Klan and the Fascists—to argue that this cannot be “the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years.” Russell's points, though terse and sharp, form the backbone of objections to design arguments. (1) Nature can be explained perfectly well, without a designer, especially since Darwin. (2) The evils of our world speak against a Designer.

The first point should be addressed first, because if we find evidence of design that cannot be reduced to natural processes, the universe becomes the mouthpiece for something beyond itself. Only in that context should we then address the question of nature’s “defects,” cruelty, suffering, and evil. Many, however, simply appeal to a less than perfect world—by picking out their favorite defects—and claim that the universe cannot be designed at all. This does not follow logically.

I once owned a 1976 AMC Gremlin X. When I sold it, it was well beyond its prime, and was never an automotive exemplar. It was defective in many ways. But no one would doubt that it was designed and assembled by intelligent agents. Its defect and decay can be explained only in the context of its design.

Admittedly, it is a heavy burden for Christian theists to explain the decay and defects of our world in light of the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-good deity. Why would such a Being allow so much that cuts against the grain of his own power and goodness?

Notwithstanding, the Christian worldview describes a bent world, a world torn by sin—yet under divine guidance. Nevertheless that burden is more easily shouldered after a solid case for design is marshaled.


Anonymous said...

Dr. G, a Gremlin...Yikes! How can you say intelligent! That is with out a doubt as bad as my father's corvair(s)...Maybe a better example would be...oh, like my brother's old Javelin (with the glass packs) now that had some panashe!

Stephen said...

Dr. G, thank you for alerting us to the launch of the new faith/evolution site. It looks very interesting. I notice however that you seem to have taken the notice off your blog. Is there a reason for this?
Kind regards,

Craig said...

Dr. G.

I have certainly enjoyed your writings both here and elsewhere. I was wondering if could shed any light on Original Sin. Or can you point me toward anything. Thanks


Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Dr. G,

A few years ago, while visiting a wonderful Lord of the Rings display in Toronto with my family (when Fellowship of the Ring first hit the movie theatres), I had an “aha” experience that’s relevant to the topic of your present post. After touring the display, we ended up in the souvenir shop. While my young sons checked out all the cool LOTR stuff, I began thinking about the argument from design and the problem of evil (the topic was on my mind because it was relevant to my PhD dissertation, which I was working on when not out happily gallivanting with my wife and our boys). As I mulled over the problem, I happened to look up and I noticed a very tall, majestic, already-assembled 3-D puzzle of the Tower of Isengard. Then it simply dawned on me. Sometimes dealing with a problem in a particular order is an aid to solving that problem. Clearly, in a 3-D puzzle it is very helpful to have bottom pieces in place first, before erecting the upper structure, and it is a mistake to dismiss the puzzle’s workability or solvability because the top (later) pieces do not fit at the very bottom. I began to realize that the philosophical problem of evil was similar: it too consists of puzzle pieces that should be addressed later, after some other puzzle pieces are in place. Once one has a sense of the overall picture provided by the puzzle pieces, it is not only useful but also appropriate to begin with discernable general purpose/design (the foundational puzzle pieces) and then deal with tough-to-discern particular purposes/designs. At any rate, it’s some food for thought.

With best regards,

P.S. Thanks for your excellent posts on The Constructive Curmudgeon. And thanks too for your excellent philosophical work elsewhere. I have especially appreciated your book Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism as well as your essay “Facing the Challenge of Postmodernism” in To Everyone an Answer.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


Bernard Ramm, "Offense to Reason" is quite good. Pascal's reflections are profound, but sometimes wrong theologically. See Pensees.

Paul D. Adams said...

Well said, Doug!
Especially re: the argument on Design (or any other argument for God's existence):
"One way of not knowing what is quite knowable is to refuse to think matters out to the end--refuse to "follow the argument"--in a carefully attentive and thorough manner. And when people sense that something is coming around the logical corner that they will not to be so, they often just refuse to carefully follow the argument. It's as common as sin, and a large part of it too."
-- Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today (p. 108).