This is the fifth in a series of posts responding to a list of 20 arguments for the existence of god from this article. To be fair, the article does state that these arguments don’t make a case except when taken all together, using the metaphor of a rope, but I am analyzing them individually so I have responses when I encounter the argument later in other sources.
- The universe displays a staggering amount of intelligibility, both within the things we observe and in the way these things relate to others outside themselves. That is to say: the way they exist and coexist display an intricately beautiful order and regularity that can fill even the most casual observer with wonder. It is the norm in nature for many different beings to work together to produce the same valuable end—for example, the organs in the body work for our life and health. (See also argument 8.)
- Either this intelligible order is the product of chance or of intelligent design.
- Not chance.
- Therefore the universe is the product of intelligent design.
- Design comes only from a mind, a designer.
- Therefore the universe is the product of an intelligent Designer.
The first premise is certainly true-even those resistant to the argument admit it. The person who did not would have to be almost pathetically obtuse. A single protein molecule is a thing of immensely impressive order; much more so a single cell; and incredibly much more so an organ like the eye, where ordered parts of enormous and delicate complexity work together with countless others to achieve a single certain end. Even chemical elements are ordered to combine with other elements in certain ways and under certain conditions. Apparent disorder is a problem precisely because of the overwhelming pervasiveness of order and regularity. So the first premise stands.
If all this order is not in some way the product of intelligent design—then what? Obviously, it “just happened.” Things just fell out that way “by chance.” Alternatively, if all this order is not the product of blind, purposeless forces, then it has resulted from some kind of purpose. That purpose can only be intelligent design. So the second premise stands.
It is of course the third premise that is crucial. Ultimately, nonbelievers tell us, it is indeed by chance and not by any design that the universe of our experience exists the way it does. It just happens to have this order, and the burden of proof is on believers to demonstrate why this could not be so by chance alone.
But this seems a bit backward. It is surely up to nonbelievers to produce a credible alternative to design. And “chance” is simply not credible. For we can understand chance only against a background of order. To say that something happened “by chance” is to say that it did not turn out as we would have expected, or that it did turn out in a way we would not have expected. But expectation is impossible without order. If you take away order and speak of chance alone as a kind of ultimate source, you have taken away the only background that allows us to speak meaningfully of chance at all. Instead of thinking of chance against a background of order, we are invited to think of order-overwhelmingly intricate and ubiquitous order-against a random and purposeless background of chance. Frankly, that is incredible. Therefore it is eminently reasonable to affirm the third premise, not chance, and therefore to affirm the conclusion, that this universe is the product of intelligent design.
Premise 2 is a false dichotomy, at least as stated here. Corals, which do not have brains, are often quite intricate patterns that have an order. These patterns do not happen by chance, for the same species of coral will always grow in almost exactly the same way, but they are certainly not intelligently designed; the polyps which make up the coral, being brainless, cannot be intelligent by definition, and yet create the beautiful order of coral reefs.
Premise 3 is not properly supported. Indeed, there isn’t even an attempt to support it, only a refusal of the burden of proof and a redefining of “by chance” to something nobody means by the phrase in this context, which is the fallacy Victory by Definition. “To say that something happened “by chance” is to say that it did not turn out as we would have expected, or that it did turn out in a way we would not have expected. But expectation is impossible without order.” This is just wrong. When a biologist says that eyes arose “by chance”, he means the mutations leading to eyes could just as easily have happened as not. Given how useful we know sight is, we would expect any mutations leading to sight or increased sight to be favored, and eyes to evolve over and over in various ways. This is exactly what we observe, and the fact that it is what we expected does not make it not by chance. Again, words have meanings, and it is dishonest not to use them properly for the sake of an argument (especially when you are trying to prove that what you claim is the source of your morals exists). For another example, if I flipped a fair coin 3 times, I would expect to see heads at least once and tales at least once, but if those expectations were not met, I would not immediately assume the coin was unfair. The three heads (or tails) in a row would still be by chance.
We have no reason to think the human brain is anything but the product of chance random mutations, except a presupposition that “god did it”. Similarly, we have enough support for natural explanations of enough of the apparent design in the universe that the burden of proof for “not chance” does indeed rest firmly on the believer. Even if we did not have natural explanations for any part of the universe, it would still be the believer’s burden of proof for “not chance”, because it is the null hypothesis that there is no relationship between a proposed but unobserved supernatural being and the observed order of a moth having exactly the right mouth parts to reach the nectar of a particular flower. Even if we could otherwise demonstrate the existence of that being, that null hypothesis would still remain, per Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor says that bringing an intelligent designer in when we already have a natural explanation is bad practice because it complicates the hypothesis unnecessarily, and bringing in a supernatural being is a more complicated hypothesis than any natural explanation we could say because it raises more questions than it answers, such as “Where did that being come from? How does it work? What is it made of?” (Parenthetically, such questions are never satisfactorily answered about god.)
The argument fails entirely on these two important premises, but I also have a problem with premise 5 (which is really premise 4 because statement 4 is a conclusion). It is true that design by definition must have a designer, but not everything that looks designed is designed. As I mentioned earlier, corals might appear designed, but they are pretty clearly not, and that’s just one example. Eyes appear designed for sight, and in a way they were, but by blind natural forces and not by an intelligence. To say eyes are designed stretches the definition of design. Because we know that great complexity can and does arise from natural forces, we need a better piece of evidence than complexity before we can reasonably claim design. We know a painting is designed because we know we can paint; we know no such thing about the platypus.
My final complaint about this argument (besides the condescending tone towards nonbelievers and the strawman questions I did not quote here) is that the numbering scheme is confusing. Those last three statements should be labelled C1, P4, and C2, and the first three should have a P in front of the number, because four of the statements are premises and two of them are conclusions. Similar complaints apply to many of the arguments on this list, and it’s hard not to see this as a sign of laziness. To be fair, that laziness in regards to the numbers might not be on the part of Peter Kreeft but someone else involved in placing the article on that website.
We are a quarter of the way through the list, and none of the arguments thus far are free from error. Even if they were, and we could accept them, they can prove nothing more than deism, and I wonder how long I can continue saying that about this list.