A Key Assumption of TASO

In Chapter 8 of The Existence of God, 2nd edition (hereafter: EOG), Richard Swinburne defends two teleological arguments for the existence of God.  

The second argument he calls the Teleological Argument from Spatial Order (TASO):


1. The laws and boundary conditions of the universe are such as to make probable the evolution of human bodies.
Therefore:
2. God exists.



Swinburne argues that (1) provides relevant evidence in support of (2), significantly increasing the probability that (2) is true (relative to the probability of (2) if the only evidence we had was that there exists a complex physical universe which is governed by simple natural laws).


Swinburne argues for the correctness of the inductive inference from (1) to (2), and one of the premises in his argument for the correctness of this inference is as follows:


3. It is quite likely that, if there is a God, the laws and boundary conditions of the universe are such as to make probable the evolution of human bodies.


In a recent post on TASO (http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2012/06/swinburnes-teleological-argument-from.html), I pointed out that this premise was based on a key assumption of Swinburne’s case for God:


A. It is fairly probable (probability is approximately .5) that God, if there is a God, would bring about the existence of humanly free agents.  (see EOG, p.123)


If (A) is false or dubious, then not only is TASO in trouble, but so are most of Swinburne’s arguments for God, and thus so is his general case for the existence of God.  If (A) is true, that would not show that Swinburne’s case for God was solid, but it would show that his case was based upon a solid foundation.


From Swinburne’s point of view, several of the general features of the universe and human experience and human history can be explained as having been designed or brought about by God for the purpose of bringing about humanly free agents (HFAs) and making it possible for these agents to live out lives in accordance with their potential for making morally significant choices and carrying out actions in accordance with those choices.  So, in order to understand Swinburne’s case for God and to properly evaluate it, one must understand this key assumption and properly evaluate it.


(A) does not mention bodies or embodiment, so another assumption is required in order for (A)  to be relevant to (3) which talks about ‘human bodies’:


 B. God will bring about the existence of HFAs only if God brings about embodied HFAs.


The point here is not that it is impossible to bring about disembodied HFAs.  The point is that disembodied HFAs would fail to fully realize the potential that makes it worthwhile to bring HFAs into existence.  Bringing about a disembodied HFA is, on Swinburne’s view, like designing and manufacturing a car that has no engine or no wheels: it won’t be able to fulfill it’s primary purpose, at least not very well (you can drive an engine-less car down hill, but once you get to the bottom of the hill, you won’t be able to go much further).


Here is a summary of Swinburne’s argument for the key assumption (B):


4. God will bring about the existence of HFAs ONLY IF God does so in such a way that the HFAs have limited free choice to make deeply significant differences to themselves, others, and the physical world for good or ill. (see EOG, p.130)
5. God will bring about HFAs in such a way that HFAs have limited fee choice to make deeply significant differences to themselves, others, and the physical world for good or ill ONLY IF God brings about embodied HFAs (see EOG, p.130)
Therefore:
B. God will bring about the existence of HFAs ONLY IF God brings about embodied HFAs.


Swinburne gives a lengthy and somewhat complex argument for (5) in EOG on pages 123-131.
I won’t try to restate his reasoning here, but will try to provide a general sense of his thinking.  Swinburne contrasts angels and spirits with humans at one point:


Angels traditionally are finite creatures, but we cannot blind them or embrace them, because there is no place at which to direct our activity; we cannot capture them in order to affect them.  Mere telepathic communication with individual spirits does not allow for public discussion with many humans and spirits.  And, if you begin to add to these situations features that do make for the ability to capture angels or have public discussions with spirits, you will find that you are beginning to give them bodies in my sense. (EOG, p.130)


These comments help clarify what Swinburne has in mind when he speaks of making “deeply significant differences” to oneself and others.  Another comment gives a feel for Swinburne’s thinking about why it is worthwhile for God to bring about the existence of embodied HFAs:


For the same reasons as humanly free agents, animals need bodies in order to have a location in space where they can influence each other, learn from each other, and be affected by each other. (EOG, p.131).


In summary, God has good reason to bring about the existence of HFAs because of the potential of HFAs to learn, communicate, and interact with each other, and especially to make choices that have significant impact (good or bad) on their own lives and the lives of others.  But such potential cannot be realized (or cannot be realized to a significant degree) unless God brings about HFAs that have bodies.  So, God has good reason to bring about embodied HFAs, and if it is fairly probable that God, if God exists, would bring about HFAs, then it is also fairly probable that God, if God exists, would bring about embodied HFAs.


Assumptions (A) and (B), when taken together, can be used to provide some support for premise (3).

Some Thoughts on Naturalism and Morality
Swinburne's Argument from Religious Experience - Part 5
Swinburne's Argument from Religious Experience - Part 6
Joel Steinmetz: The Problem of Intentionality: A Cardinal Difficulty for Physicalism (2005)
About Bradley Bowen

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