Weekly Link Roundup #64: Rebutting the Design Argument

Recently, I’ve been devoting the Weekly Link Roundups to rebut common theistic arguments. Since many excellent rebuttals already exist and I don’t want to re-invent the wheel, I thought gathering these rebuttals all in one place would be great. It’s mostly for my personal benefit, but perhaps yours too.

This one will target the Design Argument (also known as the teleological argument), which argues that because life is too complex, there must have been a designer. It typically flows as follows:

P1: The complexity of life can only occur by necessity, chance, or design.
P2: The complexity of life did not occur by necessity or chance.
C3: Therefore the complexity of life is designed.
P4: Only God can design the complexity of life.
C5: Therefore God exists.

Here are the links:

  • Wikipedia on the Teleological Argument: “A teleological or design argument is an a posteriori argument for the existence of God based on apparent design and purpose in the universe. The argument is based on an interpretation of teleology wherein purpose and design appear to exist in nature beyond the scope of any such human activities. The teleological argument suggests that, given this premise, the existence of a designer can be assumed, typically presented as God. Various concepts of teleology originated in ancient philosophy and theology. Some philosophers, such as Plato, proposed a divine Artificer as the designer; others, including Aristotle, rejected that conclusion in favor of a more naturalistic teleology.”
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Teleological Arguments: “Although enjoying some prominent defenders over the centuries, such arguments have also attracted serious criticisms from a number of major historical and contemporary thinkers. Both critics and advocates are found not only among philosophers, but come from scientific and other disciplines as well. In the following discussion, major variant forms of teleological arguments will be distinguished and explored, traditional philosophical and other criticisms will be discussed, and the most prominent contemporary turns (cosmic fine tuning arguments, many-worlds theories, and the present Intelligent Design debate) will be tracked. Discussion will conclude with a brief look at one historically important non-inferential approach to the issue.”
  • Iron Chariots on The Design Argument: “The argument from design is one of the most common arguments for god. It ranges in complexity from Paley’s watchmaker to the laughable plea of the average Christian to ‘Just look at the trees!’ Despite being one of the most popular arguments for god, and more or less providing the underpinning for the entire intelligent design movement, the argument is deeply flawed on almost every level. Logically it goes so far as to commit not one, but two separate cases of special pleading.”
  • Why “Life Has to Have Been Designed” Is A Terrible Argument for God’s Existence”: “The theory of evolution provides a powerful, beautiful, consistent explanation for the appearance of design in biological life, one that can not only explain the past but predict the future. And it’s supported by an overwhelming body of evidence from every relevant field of science, from paleontology to microbiology to epidemiology to anatomy to genetics to geology to physics to… you get the point. The argument from design explains nothing that evolution can’t explain better. It has massive, gaping holes. It has no predictive power whatsoever. And it has not a single scrap of positive evidence supporting it: not one piece of evidence suggesting the intervention of a designer at any point in the process. All it has to support it is the human brain’s tendency to see intention and design even where none exists, leading to the vague feeling on the part of believers that life had to have been designed because… well… because it just looks that way.”
  • The Argument From Design — Now With 40% More Cosmology! Or, Why David Hume Rocks: “To argue, ‘We don’t know exactly how this happened, therefore it’s reasonable to say that God made it happen’ is called arguing from ignorance, and it’s a logical fallacy. There’s no more need to explain the cosmos with intelligent design than there is to explain life with it.”
  • The Argument From Design Part Two: What Would We Do If We Didn’t Exist? Plus Begging the Question, And What is the River Trying to Do?: “The argument from design — both for life on earth specifically and the cosmos generally — often goes like this: The planet is so perfectly set up to support life — and the universe with its principles of physics is so perfectly set up to support the existence of the earth — that it can’t possibly be a coincidence. My answer: And if it hadn’t happened the way it did, then we wouldn’t be here to be wondering about it. Is it really that hard to imagine the possibility of life on Earth not existing?”
  • Problem With Design Arguments: “The Design Argument may sound good at first, but a close look shows that it suffers from special thinking in many ways. First, there is no reason to infer any particular god from a complex world, or even one god instead of a committee. Second, complexity does not imply design. There are thousands of complex, functional things that are not designed. Third, the Design Argument is another argument from ignorance. [...] Fourth, supernatural explanations have always been replaced by natural ones. So it’s very unlikely that natural phenomena will be found to have supernatural causes. Fifth, if complexity implies a designer, then what of the infinitely complex God? Who designed him? However good it sounds, the Design Argument fails many times over when you apply the same logic you’d apply to anything else – when you apply common sense.”
  • Three Fallacies of Teleology: “‘Why do human teeth develop with such regularity, into a structure well-formed for biting and chewing? You could try to explain this as an incidental fact, but think of how unlikely that would be. Clearly, the final cause of teeth is the act of biting and chewing. Teeth develop with regularity, because of the act of biting and chewing – the latter causes the former.’ A modern-day sophisticated Bayesian will at once remark, “This requires me to draw a circular causal diagram with an arrow going from the future to the past.”

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On 15 Feb 2013 in All, Atheism, Counter-apologetics, Link Roundup. 3 Comments.

3 Comments

  1. #1 cl says:
    18 Feb 2013, 1:15 am  

    I’ve been pretty much over (a)theist debate for a while now, but, some of these “replies” are so pathetic I felt compelled to speak up. Let me know if you’d like to engage… hope you’re well.

    A few quick examples:

    “To argue, ‘We don’t know exactly how this happened, therefore it’s reasonable to say that God made it happen’ is called arguing from ignorance, and it’s a logical fallacy.

    Uh, no. Pure fail.

    There are thousands of complex, functional things that are not designed.

    LOL! I’ll leave it to the keen reader to assess the problem with that claim. HINT: will work for food.

  2. #2 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    14 Mar 2013, 2:38 pm  

    Me, quoting Greta: “To argue, ‘We don’t know exactly how this happened, therefore it’s reasonable to say that God made it happen’ is called arguing from ignorance, and it’s a logical fallacy.”

    Cl: Uh, no. Pure fail.

    From the very site you linked: “The fallacy of appeal to ignorance comes in two forms: [...] (2) Not knowing that a statement is false is taken to be a proof that it is true.” That’s my best guess for what’s going on.

    But even if it’s not actually an appeal to ignorance, that objection is trivial, because it’s still a fallacious argument, just a fallacy of a different name. Perhaps it’s privileging the hypothesis or the Prosecutor’s fallacy.

    ~

    Me, quoting Luke: “There are thousands of complex, functional things that are not designed.”

    Cl: LOL! I’ll leave it to the keen reader to assess the problem with that claim.

    It would be nice if you actually explained what you thought was wrong with a statement rather than ridicule it. I’ll guess that you’re contending that it’s begging the question — taking as true that which is actually the question at hand, whether complex things aren’t designed. I’d grant that to you with the caveat that it also begs the question to go the other way and assume they are designed merely because they’re complex.

    Of course, there certainly are a lot of processes that result in complexity that can be explained as the result of a bunch of simpler things interacting, but I’d agree that intervention by God couldn’t be ruled out.

  3. #3 srdiamond says:
    14 Mar 2013, 7:56 pm  

    I’d agree that intervention by God couldn’t be ruled out.

    It’s not April 1 already, is it?

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