Problems With TASO: Part 1

Problems With TASO: Part 1 January 27, 2018

INTRO TO TASO

For several years, I have been working on an article about Richard Swinburne’s case for God. I’m currently revising the section of that article dealing with the third argument in Swinburne’s case: TASO (the Teleological Argument from Spatial Order).

In working on that section of the article, I noticed that my favorite objection to TASO was missing from that section. I have spelled out this objection a few times in posts and comments here at The Secular Outpost, but it never made it into my article, for some reason.

So, I began to work that objection into my article, and to do so, I needed to identify exactly which premise of Swinburne’s argument my objection was targeting. In identifying the specific premise that my objection was challenging, I discovered that the premise was fundamental to Swinburne’s entire case. Every one of Swinburne’s arguments for God in his book The Existence of God, 2nd edition (hereafter: EOG) relies on this same premise.  So, my favorite objection against TASO turns out to be an objection that applies to every argument that Swinburne presents in his case for God.

I will now lay out TASO, Swinburne’s critical argument about TASO, and my objections to Swinburne’s critical argument.  I will also explain why my favorite objection to TASO applies to every argument that Swinburne makes in support of the correctness of his various inductive arguments for the existence of God.  This will take two or three posts to accomplish.

TASO can be stated succinctly:

Teleological Argument from Spatial Order

(e3) There exists a complex physical universe which is governed by simple natural laws, and in which the structure of the natural laws and of the initial conditions are such that they make the evolution of human bodies in that universe probable.

THEREFORE:

(g) God exists.

This is not a deductively valid argument for the existence of God.  But it is not supposed to be.  Swinburne argues that there are NO sound deductive arguments for the existence of God, and that the question of the existence of God must be determined on the basis of inductive arguments, on the basis of factual evidences that either tend to confirm or disconfirm the hypothesis that “God exists”.  According to Swinburne, the above argument is a good inductive argument for the existence of God; it does not prove that God exists, but it does provide some confirmation of the existence of God.

More specifically, this argument adds to, or increases the probability of the hypothesis that “God exists” relative to the factual evidence presented in the first two inductive arguments in Swinburne’s case for God.  Swinburne’s method is to add one piece of factual evidence at a time, and slowly increase the probability of the hypothesis that “God exists” until he reaches the tipping point, until he can conclude that the existence of God is more probable than not,  until he shows that the claim “God exists” has a probability that is greater than .50.

Although Swinburne rejects the traditional approach of using deductive arguments to try to PROVE the existence of God, his reasoning ABOUT various inductive arguments for God consists almost exclusively of deductive reasoning.  That is, the arguments that Swinburne presents at length in EOG are critical arguments,  arguments that are about other arguments.  Swinburne’s critical arguments, which are about various inductive arguments for God, are themselves deductive arguments, and this is definitely the case with his critical argument concerning TASO.  Swinburne’s critical argument in support of the correctness of TASO is more complex than TASO, and it is a deductive argument:

Critical Argument for the Correctness of TASO

1. An argument X is a correct C-inductive argument IF AND ONLY IF: (a) the premises of X are known to be true by those who dispute about the conclusion of X,  AND (b) the premises of X make the conclusion of X more likely or more probable than it would otherwise be.

2. The premises of the argument TASO are known to be true by those who dispute about the conclusion of TASO.

3. The premises of the argument TASO make the conclusion of TASO more likely or more probable than it would otherwise be.

THEREFORE:

4. The argument TASO is a correct C-inductive argument.

Swinburne lays out his analysis of what constitutes a “correct C-inductive argument” in the very first chapter of The Existence of God, called “Inductive Arguments” (see EOG, p.6 & 7).  Although Swinburne does not generally spell out a critical argument like this for all of his inductive arguments for God, reasoning of this form is implied whenever Swinburne asserts that one of his inductive arguments for God is a correct inductive argument.

Each of the three premises of the above critical argument is questionable.  I have at least one objection against each premise.

 

OBJECTION TO PREMISE (2)

TASO is the third argument in Swinburne’s case for God.  The first argument in his case is an inductive cosmological argument that is based on this premise:

(e1) There is a complex physical universe.

Although the term “complex” is a bit vague, this premise seems undeniably true, so it makes sense to say of (e1) that it is “known to be true by those who dispute about” the existence of God.  This is a solid factual claim to use in an argument for God.

The second argument in Swinburne’s case is also based on a premise that seems to be clearly and obviously true:

(e2) There is a complex physical universe which is governed by simple natural laws.

Again, the word “simple” is a bit vague, but this is a solid factual claim to use in an argument for God, so it makes sense to say that (e2) is “known to be true by those who dispute about” the existence of God.

But when we come to the third argument, TASO, the factual claim is not at all obviously true:

(e3) There exists a complex physical universe which is governed by simple natural laws, and in which the structure of the natural laws and of the initial conditions are such that they make the evolution of human bodies in that universe probable.

First of all, it is not obviously true that human bodies evolved in our universe.  I firmly believe that human bodies evolved in this universe, and there is a great deal of evidence that supports the this hypothesis, leaving little room for doubt, but one needs to be exposed to a fair amount of scientific data and information and knowledge to be in a position to come to KNOW that human bodies evolved in this universe.  One needs to learn about sexual reproduction, and genetics, geology and fossils, and about different kinds of plant and animal life (bacteria, plants, fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, primates, etc.).

People are not born with modern scientific knowledge about plants, animals, chemistry, genetics, geology, etc.  We have to be educated over a period of many years, and even then, many (most?) people in the USA don’t learn enough scientific information and concepts to be in a position to know that human bodies evolved.  Certainly, many educated Christians in the USA have doubts about the claim that human bodies evolved in this universe.

Second, assuming it to be a fact that human bodies evolved in this universe, this still does NOT imply that the structure of the universe (the initial conditions at the time of the Big Bang plus the specific laws of nature in this universe) made this outcome PROBABLE.  For all we know, the evolution of human bodies might have been an extremely improbable event.  Many events that have occurred are improbable events.  The fact that event X actually occurred does NOT show that the universe was so structured that it was probable that X would occur.

The inference from “X actually occurred” to the conclusion that “the universe was structured in such a way that made it probable that X would occur” would only make sense if one assumed the truth of determinism, only if one assumes that given the initial conditions of our universe and given the specific laws of nature in our universe, that every event in the history of the universe from the point of the Big Bang onward, was completely determined or fated to happen exactly the way it does happen.  On that view, every event (after the Big Bang) that occurs MUST have occurred, and that the initial conditions and laws of the universe made it CERTAIN that every event (after the Big Bang) would happen exactly the way they do in fact happen.  But this sort of rigid and extreme determinism is no longer in vogue.  Few scientists (if any) hold this sort of view these days.

The fact that human bodies have evolved in this universe is clearly NOT sufficient evidence to conclude that the structure of this universe made this event probable.  Furthermore, there does not appear to be any other easy and obvious way to arrive at this conclusion; there is no easy and obvious way to come to KNOW that (e3) is true.

Perhaps (e3) is true, but coming to know that (e3) is true would require not only learning most of the relevant scientific information and concepts that support the claim that human bodies evolved in this universe, but also a good deal of additional information and reasoning that would be needed to show that the initial conditions and laws of this universe were such as to make it probable that human bodies would evolve.

The Fine Tuning argument illustrates the complex sort of evidence and reasoning required here, but the argument from Fine Tuning aims only to show that the universe is structured in such a way as to make evolution of living creatures PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE.  It is a much taller order to argue that the structure of the universe is such that it made the evolution of human bodies PROBABLE.

Clearly, (e3) is NOT something that is “known by those who dispute about” the existence of God.  I doubt that anyone knows (e3) to be true, but even if there are a few such people, they are a tiny portion of the large population of those who “dispute about” the existence of God.   Therefore, premise (2) is FALSE.

 

OBJECTION TO PREMISE (3)

Swinburne’s primary emphasis is on presenting a line of reasoning in support of premise (3).  One key premise in his argument supporting (3) is the following premise (see EOG, p.189):

8. It is quite probable that (e3) is the case given that there is a God and a complex physical universe governed by simple natural laws.

If premise (8) is false or questionable, then Swinburne has failed to show (3) to be true, thus leaving the truth of (3) in doubt.

Premise (8) seems to me to be FALSE.  From my point of view, it is UNLIKELY that God would structure the universe in such a way that human bodies would probably evolve (naturally, apart from any divine intervention).

God is, on Swinburne’s own definition, an eternally omnipotent person, and an eternally omniscient person (with omniscience being limited in relation to knowledge of the future, because God’s free will and human free will make it logically impossible to know every detail of the future).  Since God is omnipotent and omniscient, God would be able to create all existing plants, animals, and human beings in the blink of an eye, along the lines of the Genesis creation myth.  It is very implausible to suppose that God would use the long, random, and uncertain process of evolution to produce plants, animals, and human bodies when God could have instantly created billions of earth-like planets all filled to the brim with thousands of kinds of plants, and animals, and creatures with human-like bodies.

Furthermore, God is also supposed to be a perfectly morally good person, and all of the pain, disease, suffering, and death involved in a billion years of the evolutionary struggle for survival could have been avoided by God creating all of the desired plants, animals, and human-like creatures in an instant.  God, if God exists, had a very powerful moral reason to prefer instant creation of living creatures over the slow, random, uncertain, and suffering-filled natural process of evolution.

There seems to be no strong reason for God to prefer the natural process of evolution over instantaneous creation of all living creatures, including the creation of human bodies, and there is an obvious powerful moral reason for God to prefer instantaneous creation over the natural process of evolution.  So, it seems to me that premise (8) has it completely backwards.  It is highly IMPROBABLE that (e3) would be the case, if God existed.  Premise (8) is FALSE, and so Swinburne has failed to provide us with a good reason to believe (3) to be true.  Therefore, premise (3) remains doubtful.

 

OBJECTION TO PREMISE (1)

I have recently learned that my favorite objection to TASO is an objection to premise (1).  I will present my favorite objection to TASO in Part 2 of this series of posts on TASO.

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