The Teleological Argument for God
I want to address “The Teleological Argument” first, in my, hopefully long, series of arguments for God, because it is absolutely the most ridiculous, laughable argument (aside from possibly “Pascal’s Wager”) and I really want theists to understand this. Firstly, I’d like to say right now that I am not a biologist, physicist, or chemist. I am a Computer Science student and so my area of expertise is logic. However, all facts that I will give are well researched and I truly understand that evidence is not evidence unless it is given by a qualified scientist in such field. You can rest assured that the biological facts I provide are true, but if you doubt anything I say, I encourage you to look these things up for yourself. http://www.talkorigins.org/ is a great website for learning about the origins of our universe.
So let’s start with a definition of the argument. There are many forms of the argument but most of them have some things in common. There are 3 premises and 2 conclusions generally attribute to this argument. Premise 1) We appear to observe features in nature that are too complex to have happened by chance. Premise 2) These features exhibit the hallmark appearance of design. Premise 3) Design implies that there must be a designer. Conclusion 1) Therefore, nature must be the result of an intelligent designer. Conclusion 2) That designer is God.
Now let’s break this down and just attack premise 1. Firstly, things that are complex are not evidence of design. In fact, simplicity seems to be more evidence of design than complexity. Snowflakes appear to be complex, but they are not designed. Sand dunes also appear to be quite complex but are clearly not designed either. Secondly, in order to say that something is too complex to have happened by chance, is an argument from ignorance. The argument is that “I can’t possibly see how this could have arisen by chance, thus God did it.” It is also an example of a Begging the Question fallacy. How could we possibly know that something is too complex without a sample of confirmed examples of naturally occurring low-complexity cases versus high-complexity cases. Famous apologist Ray Comfort bypasses this premise altogether by simply calling it “creation” from the outset. This is also a Begging the Question fallacy.
From the get go, this argument isn’t looking too great, but let’s move on to premise 2. “Nature appears to have features that exhibit design.” This is the heart of the “Paley’s Watchmaker” analogy, which I will explain later in this post. A common analogy for this premise is to imagine that you’re walking along a beach and you see a line in the sand. You can disregard this as design because it, obviously, is not. However, If you’re walking along a beach and see “I Love John” written in the sand, you can immediately recognize this as design, because there is information and intent behind it. However, there are a few fallacies here. The way that you can recognize design is by comparing it to things that you already know have been designed. For instance, if you come across “I Love John” in the sand, you can compare it to other memories that you have of similar situations. There are no records of the words “I Love John” occurring naturally, there are no occurrences of “I Love John” coming into existence on their own, thus you can assume by contrast that “I Love John” was not a natural occurrence. But if you did not have those memories to contrast it with, you cannot decide if it is randomly occurring or not. In the case of Ray Comforts famous example, he claims that if you were to stumble across a painting in the woods, you can immediately recognize that it is designed by contrasting it with the world around it. However, again, we’re not contrasting it with the world around it, but our memories of paintings. We have no instances of paintings coming into existence on their own. All paintings that we know of necessarily require a painter. There are no paintings that we know of that can reproduce. Everything about this example is completely ignorant. Additionally, the “I Love John” example claims that it is the intent behind something that can postulate a designer. “I Love John” was designed because it has meaning. However, it is not the designer that attributes meaning to this. Our brains are fantastic at attributing meaning where there is none. It has to do with the way our brains work and the way our brains understand things. There is a function of the brain that helps us shortcut things into our memory by attributing them to things we already know. So when we see something we don’t know, our brains immediately scan our memories for other things similar to it in which to compare. The information that is contained in “I Love John” is not information from an intelligent source, but information that is deduced within our own brains. Everything contains information. Waves contain information (Speed), Rocks contain information (Volume, Mass). All these things that are naturally occurring contain information…not because they were designed, but because our brain attributes information to them.
Additionally for premise two, it is a fallacy in the case of “Special Pleading”. The theists are contrasting the “Painting” or the “I Love John” with the things that are naturally occurring, however these naturally occurring things are the very things they are trying to claim were designed! They are comparing design with design. So really, Ray Comfort didn’t find the painting in the woods, he found it in a clump of paintings, sitting in a field of paintings, laying on a world of paintings, and he’s claiming that this painting in particular was designed.
Premise 3 is true, haha. Design does imply a designer. However, as premise 1 and 2 are both false, there’s nothing to suggest that anything is considered “design.”
There is an unstated premise here. It is implicit within this argument that self-design is impossible. However, there are some things that have been confirmed to be self-designing. Evolution being the most obvious case of an algorithmic description of a process of self-design. Also, the human brain is capable of self design. One can think about a problem and solve it without any outside resources or help, thus becoming a more complex system.
Additionally, Richard Dawkins points out that this entire argument is using the fallacy of special pleading. It is appealing to a God which is infinitely complex, and thus by their own argument, infinitely improbable deity. Even if I gave you all the false premises, overlooked the fallacies, and ignored the unstated premise, this argument doesn’t state which God did any of this. Thus, it is just as likely that a magical transcendental ham sandwich created the world and we call it God.
Most apologists, when confronted with these refutations for their argument, will naturally throw a straw man out by saying “Atheists believe that all of this creation came from nothing.” First, it is dishonest to call it “creation” when it is clearly not. Second, this is a clear straw man. Atheists are not claiming that all of this came from nothing. They are simply claiming that we don’t have enough evidence to know what happened before the big bang, thus it is dishonest to make guesses, and assume that those guesses are true. Which is exactly what theists are doing. They don’t know what happened, so they are guessing, and choosing to believe these guesses as true. Which is a clear argument from ignorance. But even if I did believe that, we do have examples of matter coming into existence from non-matter. There are certain virtual particles in Quantum Mechanics that pop into, and out of, existence quite randomly. Additionally, to claim that it is impossible for something to come from nothing is another argument from ignorance, because we don’t have “nothing” to examine. It is quite possible that if a “nothing” were to exist, the only possible outcome is that something spontaneously forms from it. Now, I’m not advocating that this is the case, because I simply don’t know. All I’m saying is that I, nor anyone else, has ever observed “nothing” so we don’t know what would happen.
As I promised, I’ll now, briefly, describe “Paley’s Watchmaker.” William Paley quotes this in Natural Theology c. 1802. “in crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer that for anything I knew to the contrary it had lain there forever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there.” Basically, this argument is similar to the Ray Comfort painting example. It is claiming to have found something (that we can compare in our memories to existent things that have a designer) that it attributes to be designed by comparing it to the natural world. However, as I have already refuted, you cannot contrast something that is designed with something that you’re claiming to be designed.
I Hope you’re beginning to see why this argument is so ridiculous. It’s just flawed at every turn, yet it’s probably the most common argument I see! Please, please don’t use this argument. However, in case you’re still inclined to do so, There are a couple of counter arguments I think it relevant to mention. If this world was truly designed by an intelligent designer, It’s a truly stupid design. An Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent being would create something with optimal design, however, we can see, just by examination, that the design of organisms (especially humans) is anything but perfect. The laryngeal nerve in a Giraffe runs all the way from the brain all the way down to the base of the neck and all the way back up to the brain when the nerve could serve the same function merely traversing a few centimeters. The nerve is longer, thus there is more surface area, and thus there is a higher probability for damage. This nerve makes sense in animals with shorter necks because the distance is much shorter, However, the long laryngeal nerve in Giraffes does not make sense in light of an intelligent designer, because, surely, an intelligent being would see the potential disadvantages to this. Additionally, I think it’s a pretty stupid design to have one tube that goes down my throat, which I both eat and breath through so I can eat something and choke and die. It seems that, if I was truly designed, an omnipotent being would see the disadvantages to this.
But “how could we possibly understand the inner workings of God’s mind?” This is the argument that I finally get after all these refutations to this argument. It’s a clear last resort and I usually get it when their argument fails. It’s irrelevant to your argument whether or not I could understand the inner workings of God’s mind. I’m not claiming that a God doesn’t exist absolutely, I’m claiming that this is just a ridiculous and stupid, argument for the existence of God. If you use this argument, I seriously encourage you to stop, because not only do I find it absolutely absurd, logically inconsistent, and dishonest, but it is actually laughable. The logic in this argument is nonexistent, just like the God you’re trying to prove most likely is.