Different Design Arguments

Different Design Arguments December 4, 2013

The major difference between the kinds of design arguments one encounters in cosmology and biology is this: The design argument in physics involves accepting what the majority of scientists in that field conclude, while the design argument in biology involves rejecting what the majority of scientists in that field conclude. And conversely, the objections to the latter are scientific objections, while the objections to the former are about philosophy and worldview. For instance, that various biological features are irreducibly complex is disputed by most biologists, while most physicists do not dispute that the basic physical constants of our universe are just what they need to be for life of the sort we are to exist within it, and the only question is how that can be and what the significance is for our philosophies and worldviews.


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  • dangjin1

    people only ask this question when they reject the truth of the Bible.

    • I think what you mean is that people only assume that the Bible offers them absolute truths of the kind you think it does, when they stop asking questions.

  • $51751848

    I don’t think it makes much sense to distinguish between cosmological and biological design. Or rather, if the biological world is designed it’s because the broader universe which supplies the conditions for life to emerge is designed.

    • But that is the whole point – saying that the universe is fine tuned to enable the emergence of life is in keeping with the conclusions of mainstream science, while insisting that God had to tinker in the interim to get complex organisms to appear faces serious scientific challenges. And so, if one wants to make a persuasive argument from design, choosing to pursue the latter when the former option is available seems misguided.

  • Just Sayin’

    Well put.

  • Interesting observations, the funny thing is that Hawking makes wild conjectures unsupported by evidence to avoid a cosmic Designer, and young-earthers make wild claims about dragons, dinosaurs and global floods to avoid evolution!

    This is why science is so fascinating: our universe is wonderful and mysterious and complex, and we are blessed with the capability to understand it (in part, anyways…)

  • arcseconds

    We don’t currently know why various constants have the values that they do.

    The constants seem independent of the laws, and we can raise the same question about them: why are the laws like they are? I don’t really understand why people single out the constants as though their values require more explanation than the laws themselves.

    There are cosmologies that solve some of these problems. For example, if there are multiple universes, then the situation is no different from asking why Earth is in the life-zone around the Sun. There is no particular reason for it, but with billions of stars with planets it was bound to happen sooner or later.

    I think we’ll always be in this position. We’ll know the world to be some way or other on the basis of the best empirically-supported theory. Some will be happy to accept that’s the way it is, and others will ask “why is the world like that?”. And it’s always going to be possible to come up with some explanation for that.

    The most scientifically-acceptable answer is going to be to develop a further theory that embeds the current one, so the features of the current one are explained in terms of the further theory. But this clearly just raises the questions at a new level.

    One special case of this is the ‘multiple universes’ option. I suppose the ultimate example of this is David Lewis’s modal realism, where every logically possible world exists. If you’re convinced of that, maybe there are no further questions. Why is it like this? No reason, all possibilities are fulfilled somewhere.

    One answer which is always going to tempt some people is ‘It’s God!’. But that never exhausts the possibilities, and it’s unclear to me to what extent it even counts as an explanation. Can’t we just raise the same kinds of questions again? Why does God exist, and why did it do things that way?

    Plus, it seems to be a version of the God of the Gaps phenomenon. We may get an explanation for the features of contemporary physics which we currently have no explanation for, and then I suppose the response will be ‘OK, we were wrong about the constants, that wasn’t God. But it’s God now!’

    Given that saying it’s designed seems to have little warrant other than as a speculative idea alongside other speculative ideas, seems to offer little in the way of explanation, just raises further questions even if we accept it, and if we accept it as the final explanation just seems to curtail enquiry, plus of course that we should accept with some humility that where demonstration ends we are ignorant, I do wonder what the value of thinking that physical constants are designed is.

    • One certainly can appeal to a multiverse, but an infinite number of universes just happening to exist, or being brought into existence by some mysterious process, is not obviously superior to the view that there is some mind-like creator or ground of being that is responsible for the seeming rationality of the cosmos. And so that was my point. One sort of design argument, while not required by scientific evidence, is not incompatible with it, while the other is.

      • arcseconds

        OK, let’s put this more simply, then.

        Firstly, why attempt an explanation at all?

        Secondly, why go for one positing a mind-like entity?

        • If one isn’t inclined to ask for an explanation, then one can simply ignore the question. But since our universe appears to have had a beginning, it does lead naturally to a question about where it came from, even if it may not be an answerable question.

          While it is not essential to posit a mind-like entity, the fact that the cosmos has a seeming rationality woven into its fabric – such that it gives rise to biological minds – it is not illogical to posit that some sort of mind may have something fundamental to do with the cosmos at its very essence. And of course, a minds is the only thing that we can be absolutely sure exists!

          • arcseconds

            People are inclined to give explanations for all sorts of things. Just because one wants an explanation of a certain kind doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to provide or believe such an explanation.

            Some people, for example, seek a unifying explanation for the death of JFK, the 9/11 bombings, and the recent financial collapse. Just because they want such an explanation, and find such an explanation psychologically satisfying when they have it, doesn’t mean that such an explanation is warranted.

            Or to take a case with more similarities to the case under discussion, human cultures have always been impressed with the weather: its awesome power, its importance for human life, its apparent regularity and also its apparent capriciousness. The usual thing to do was to posit some kind of agency running the weather (or identical with it).

            Now, myths and traditions about weather-gods are all very interesting and I’m sure they fulfilled all sorts of functions, including recording practical information about when to plant, etc, plus gave people the psychological satisfaction of having an explanation. But it turns out that there aren’t agents behind the weather: it can be explained entirely in terms of impersonal, natural processes.

            Of course, these stories arise in non-scientific cultures, and we should be careful about projecting our values onto them, but if we anachronistically imagine someone with a modern, scientific understanding of truth and evidence somehow arising in such a culture, we can see that it would be correct for them to say “well, actually, we really have no idea of how the weather works. Maybe it’s the gods, maybe it’s not, it’s an area where we have no data and no compelling theories.”

            So, I don’t know what you mean by ‘not illogical’. It doesn’t involve a logical contradiction to suppose such a thing, but multiple universes and other more outré suggestions, such as our universe is some kind of computer simulation, seem at least as plausible. Surely, when there are several options we know of, a great many we haven’t thought of (perhaps infinitely many), nothing in the way of firm data and no real way of choosing between them, the responsible thing to do is to admit ignorance and reserve judgement, no matter how badly we might want to rest on a particular explanation?

            Also, is there any reason to accept this mind as being where explanation stops? Or is it just that you find yourself inclined to ask ‘why is the universe here’, inclined to say ‘maybe something like a mind is something like responsible for it’, and then find yourself disinclined to ask any further questions?

            Speaking for myself, I certainly am inclined to ask further questions. Where did this mind come from? Also, if it’s a rational mind equipped with concepts, including most importantly the concept of a law, can it do this without a language? If it has no language, one could question whether it really can be thought of as a rational mind. If it has a language, then that immediately suggests it can’t be unique, but must be a member of a community.

            The notion of a law gives us a somewhat independent argument to posit a community: historically our understanding of laws comes from society and only gets applied to nature secondarily. I’ve even seen arguments that the origins of natural philosophy in ancient Greece comes out of the more communal and less despotic nature of Greek societies of the time: in a despotism it’s easy to suppose that the world obeys the edicts of an agent, just as your society obeys the order of the king, whereas a society where the laws have some independence of someone issuing orders, allows one to conceive of a natural order that’s law (or principle)-centric, rather than agent-centric.

          • But it isn’t obvious that an eternal mind, or an eternal universe-making mechanism, or any other point at which we stop positing further levels does any better, or any worse. My point is not that one cannot raise objections to any of these stances, but that such objections are not as decisive as they can potentially be in the domain of evolution, or the JFK assassination, or anything else. Would you disagree?