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August 9, 2011

Arguments for the Existence of God: Argument from Design

by juju2112

watch1

Today, I’d like to address another common reasoning people cite when explaining why they believe in God. Here’s my summary of it:

Everything is sooo complicated! Look at the trees! Look at the clouds! The infinite diversity of life on our planet! The innumerable stars! The human eye! Bacterial flagellum! This stuff is amazing! I just don’t see how any of it could have just come to be by chance. There must have been a God to create it all.

William Paley explained this idea about 200 years ago in his book Natural Theology with the watchmaker analogy:

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.

In my experience, this is the #1 reason people cite for believing in a god. So what’s wrong with it?

Well, firstly, just because you don’t understand something, that doesn’t mean you get to make up an explanation for it. Yes, there are a lot of crazy things out there. We don’t understand a lot of it. When you don’t understand something, should you jump to conclusions about it? If you see a floating object in the sky, is it fair to immediately assume it’s an alien spaceship? The truth is, you have no idea what that object is. Without getting more evidence, the best you can say is that you don’t know what that object was.

Is that really so scary? Admitting we don’t know something? It’s okay to say “I don’t know”. Really!

Here’s the problem I have with this. The steps in someone’s mind when they think this through seems to go like this:

  • I don’t understand something.
  • There must be an all-powerful, omnipotent deity listening to my thoughts and guiding world events. That’s the only explanation.

Ok, let’s set aside the fact that this is a huge logical leap. You can’t use your own ignorance as proof of the existence of something. Saying god exists is a positive assertion. You need proof of it. Some kind of reason for thinking it. Not understanding how the universe works isn’t a reason. That’s just ignorance.

Using God as an explanation doesn’t work, anyway. It just pushes the mystery up one level. God must be pretty complicated himself. After all, he created an entire universe! By the same logic we’ve been using so far, we have to assume this complex entity needs a designer. So, who created God? How does he work? Was it another God? Does that god have a creator, too?

Another problem with this argument is that it isn’t specific to any one religion. You could just as easily use it to prove Allah exists. And Muslims do use this argument. That should give you pause. If you can replace “God” in your argument with “Thor” and the reasoning doesn’t break down, is it really a good argument?

There’s more interesting stuff on this here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleological_argument#Formal_objections_and_counterarguments

(Photo by Aaron Geller)

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