Archive for August, 2011

August 7th, 2011

A History of the Design Argument

by Max Andrews

The teleological argument was not articulated and popularized as an argument for the existence of intelligent causation (God) until William Paley (1743-1805) authored his seminal work Natural Theology.  Arguments for designed existence long before Paley.  Plato (429-347 BC), in Book X of The Republic, presented an argument for design.  In the Philebus dialogue, Socrates is discussing nature with Protarchus and Socrates appeals to the apparent order in nature.  Plato articulates that “mind rules the universe” and that the mind is the cause of all.  The famous Roman orator, Cicero made a similar argument in On the Nature of the Gods (45 BC), that man may infer design by intelligent causation, that of a mind.

Paley resumes and revitalizes the argument by applying analogy to it.  He states, “When one encounters a watch, the complexity of this artifact and the interrelations of its parts lead to the inference that it was the product of a purposive design.”  The complexity of life exhibits the design like that of a mind.  The Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, David Hume (1711-1776), responded to Paley’s claims and objected to the argument from analogy on nine different points in his work Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

Hume’s first objection was that the argument does not conclude that God exists, merely a designer.  Using Paley’s work as the referent for his objections, this may seem appropriate since Paley spends the large majority of his book reviewing the attributes of the designer, whom he calls God.  The problem with this objection is that Paley arrives to the attributes and identifies the designer only after other metaphysical implications and other evidences.  Hume’s objection is precisely the argument.  The argument does not argue for God, it argues for a designer.

The second objection is that one may only use analogy to argue for things that are similar, but the universe is unique.  The error here is that everything is unique in its own respect.  In order to properly use analogy, there must be at least some properties of the two things being compared for it to function.  The third objection Hume proposed was that analogy can only be used for things that have been experienced, and no one has experienced the beginning of the universe.  The response would be that it is not true, scientists infer the existence of operations of inexperienced entities all the time and analogizing the cause and effect relationships from what is already known by experience.  Fourth, the designer would need a designer and so on to an infinite regress (presupposing the impossibility of an actual infinite).  This objection would bring an abrupt halt to all scientific inquiry.  One does not need an explanation of the explanation in order for that explanation to be the best explanation.  This is particularly true if the explanation is an agent; agent causation is internally originating without any necessary external causes to consider.

Hume’s fifth objection was that all known designers are corporeal human beings, therefore the most one can infer is a super human being.  This objection is similar to the first objection, not all properties have to be similar in using an analogy.  Sixth, why would the design proponent not postulate more than one designer since there is no evidence of a single designer?  This would be a simple application of Occam’s razor, the principle of simplicity argues for only one unless there is evidence for more.  Even if the design proponent was to concede this objection that would be entirely within the scope of the argument’s claims because it does not defeat the need for at least one.  Seventh, the universe may be more like an organism than a machine.  This objection is a repetition of one of the arguing points for the design proponent because he claims that organisms still show evidence of design.

Hume’s eighth objection is that it is still possible that order in the universe was brought about by chance and randomness.  This is a misunderstanding of the argument.  Referring back to the evidences for design, the chance probability is infinitesimally small.  The design argument merely argues for the best explanation and the greatest probability.  The final objection Hume raised to Paley’s argument was that there are many signs of disorder in the universe.  Hume has an implicit concession of design within his own objection.  One can only infer disorder if there is supposed to be order.  The whole universe must not even exhibit order to use the argument, all one would need is one piece of evidence that exhibited design to make the argument.

August 7th, 2011

Metaphysical Implications of the Fine-Tuning for Life

by Max Andrews

The truth is that now all theories of origins, theistic or atheistic, involve speculation as to the nature of what it was that created a universe so fine-tuned for life.  The question is only, was it an intelligent or an unintelligent cause that created time, space, matter and energy out of nothing?[1]  With regards to the argument from design, Columbia University astronomer, Robert Jastrow discussed what he calls “the most theistic result to ever come out of science”:

According to the picture of the evolution of the universe developed by the astronomer and his fellow scientists, the smallest change in any of the circumstances of the natural world, such as the relative strengths of the forces of nature, or the properties of the elementary particles, would have led to a universe in which there could be no life and no man…

It is possible to make the same argument about changes in the strengths of the electromagnetic force, the force of gravity, or any other constants of the material universe, and so come to the conclusion that in a slightly changed universe there could be no life, and no man.  Thus, according to the physicist and the astronomer, it appears that the universe was constructed within very narrow limits, in such a way that man could dwell in it.  This result is called the anthropic principle.

Some scientists suggest, in an effort to avoid a theistic or teleological implication in their findings, that there must be an infinite number of universes, representing all possible combinations of basic forces and conditions, and that our universe is one of an infinitely small fraction, in this great plenitude of universes, in which life exists.[2]

As I’ve noted in previous works and posts, the design argument is quite modest by simply stating that intelligent causation can be detected in the natural world.  The argument does not and cannot infer the identity of the designer alone.  In order to identify the designer one must seek external evidences, such as other scientific, philosophical, historical, and theological evidences.  A cumulative case argument would fulfill this need.


            [1] Granville Sewell, In the Beginning (Seattle, WA:  Discovery Institute Press, 2010), 25.

            [2] Robert Jastrow quoted by Roy Varghese, The Intellectuals Speak About God, (Regenery Gateway), 1984.

August 2nd, 2011

Inferring Design From Data

by Max Andrews

The data presented must be evaluated as either being the result of necessity, chance, a combination thereof, or design (intelligent causation).  How may one infer design?  As William Dembski advocates in his work, The Design Inference, there must be a relay of specified complex information.[1]  In the 1940’s, Claude Shannon at Bell Laboratories developed a mathematical theory of information.  The information-carrying capacity of a sequence of a specific length can then be calculated using the expression I=-log2p.[2]  When this formula is applied to genetic sequence probability formulas the information being conveyed is more than mere Shannon information.  The word information in this theory is used in a special mathematical sense that must not be confused with its ordinary usage.  In particular, information must not be confused with meaning.[3]

Since the late 1950’s, biologists have equated the “precise determination of sequence” with the property “specificity” or “specification.”  Biologists have defined specificity tacitly as “necessary to achieving or maintaining function.”  They have determined that DNA base sequences are specified, not by applying information theory, but my making experimental assessments of the function of those sequences within the overall apparatus of gene expression.[4]  The same application of specificity would be applied to complexity.  Given the complexity of the components need for and to sustain life, the complexity is that which maintains function, a specified complexity.[5]

When arguing for design, the argument cannot take one to Christianity or even God.  All one can purport is an intelligent cause.[6]  The evidence cannot identify who or what the cause is.  This is constructive empiricism.  Constructive empiricism states that one can only refer to the aspects of that being, in this case, the intelligence of the cause, respective to the issue and evidence at hand.  It is only be a cumulative case argument can one infer that the intelligent cause is God.

By experience, it can be deduced that mind originates information (as previously described) and that the other competing hypotheses do not have the explanatory scope and power as design does.  It is by the means of abduction one can infer that design, or intelligent causation, is the best explanation for the data.  Chance and randomness cannot substantially account for the data.  The improbability alone is infinitesimally improbable.  The necessity explanation has no support and the physical variations of the cosmic landscape place the explanation at implausible.


            [1] William A. Dembski, The Design Inference (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1998).

            [2] This equated the amount of information transmitted with the amount of uncertainty reduced or eliminated by a series of symbols or characters.  Claude Shannon, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” Bell System Technical Journal 27 (1948):  379-423; 623-656.

            [3] Claude Shannon, W. Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (Champaign, IL:  University of Illinois Press, 1998), 8.

            [4] Stephen C. Meyer, “ A Scientific History—and Philosophical Defense—of the Theory of Intelligent Design.”

            [5] Ibid. To avoid equivocation, it is necessary to distinguish “information content” from mere “information carrying capacity,” “specified information” from mere “Shannon information,” “specified complexity” form mere “complexity.”

            [6] Intelligent causation is entirely consistent with the scientific method.  For example:  The design inference begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex specified information.  The hypothesis would follow with predictions of design.  For experiments, one would one need to test whether scientific data has complex specified information.  The conclusion may follow as:  Because X exhibits high levels of complex specified information, a quality known to be a product of intelligence, therefore, life was designed.

August 2nd, 2011

The Methodology Behind the Teleological Argument

by Max Andrews

The argument from design is modest in what it purports.  The final claim and conclusion is that there is an extremely intelligent and personal mind, which is responsible for the design in the universe.[1]  The Greek word, telos, is an end goal or purpose.  The design argument was first developed by the ancient Greeks and popularized by William Paley (1743-1805).  The objections to Paley, which served as a catalyst for the arguments popularity among science and philosophy, were purported by David Hume (1711-1776).

The current state of the argument has gained considerable advances in interest in philosophy, theology, science, and even culture.  Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking purported in his recent [paradoxically titled] book, The Grand Design, that the universe no longer needs intervention or a supernatural being to account for the design and creation of the universe.[2]  Most of the interests in the design argument are advances in the scientific account for the beginning of the universe, which are used to argue against the fine-tuning, which will be evaluated.

It is paramount to explicate from the beginning that this is philosophy of science.  This practice is not theological.[3]  The argument is a posteriori gathered from the natural sciences.  The method by which design will be inferred is a historical science.  There are four differences between a historical science and a laboratory science.  First, repeatability is not applicable in the historical sciences; it is a metacriterion for laboratory science.  Second, historical science assumes uniformitarianism, that is, there are presently known causes to phenomena, which can be inferred by perceived effects.[4]  Third, the theories and explanatory hypotheses must lay in empirical harms way.  The conclusions must be falsifiable.  It should be noted that the type of scientific inquiry will be that of an Augustinian science as opposed to a Duhemian science.  Augustinian science permits and carries open metaphysical presuppositions with science.  Duhemian science strips science of all metaphysical imports.  This point yields to the final distinction, which is the understanding that historical science must use non-controversial reasoning.  The controversial claim for the design proponent is simply the introduction of intelligent causation.  However, this is not as controversial as much of the scientific community makes it out to be.  Agency is publically accepted evidence by experience.[5]

Such methods are derived from the use of abductive reasoning.  The American philosopher and logician Charles Sanders Peirce first described abduction.  He noted that, unlike inductive reasoning, in which a universal law or principle is established from repeated observations of the same phenomena, and unlike deductive reasoning, in which a particular fact is deduced by applying a general law to another particular fact or case, abductive reasoning infers unseen facts, events, or causes in the past from clues or facts in the present.[6] Consider the following syllogism:

If it rains, the streets will get wet.

The streets are wet.

Therefore, it rained.

The use of abductive reasoning may seem fallacious at first take.  This syllogism commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent.  One cannot deduce from the data, that the streets are wet, that it rained because there are many other explanations for why the streets are wet.  It could have been the case that a fire hydrant was allowed to flow, a street cleaner came through, a concerned citizen who wanted to clean the chalk off of the streets from the little children drawing pictures or writing words, there are many possibilities that could explain why the road was wet.  This was the problem that posed Peirce:  How was it that despite the logical problem of affirming the consequent, one nevertheless frequently makes conclusive inferences about the past?  The key point is the explanatory scope and power of the explanation.  Abductive reasoning does not derive a certain conclusion (for one would then be guilty of affirming the consequent), but it makes an inference to the best explanation.  Peirce’s example was whether anyone should believe in the existence of Napoleon.  He claimed that the past may be inferred from the study of present effects, namely, artifacts and records.  Peirce concluded, “Though we have not seen the man [Napoleon], yet we cannot explain what we have seen without the hypothesis of his existence.”[7]  Despite the apparent fallacy, W.P. Alston, W.B. Gallie, and Michael Scriven have observed, such arguments can be restated in a logically acceptable form if it can be shown that Y has only one cause (i.e. X) or that X is a necessary condition (or cause) of Y.  Thus, arguments of the form:

X is antecedently necessary to Y,

Y exists,

Therefore, X existed

are logically valid by philosophers and persuasive by historical and forensic scientists.[8]

The suggestion was that a particular abductive hypothesis can be firmly established if it can be shown that it represents the best or only explanation of the “manifest effects” in question.[9]  The only causally adequate explanation of the life-permitting data is intelligent causation.  Minds, by experience, are capable of presenting and originating specified complex information.


            [1] The most modest claims of the argument are for an intelligent cause.  I choose to add a “personal mind” to the argument due to metaphysical implications of an intelligent causation.

            [2] Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York:  Random House, 2010), 8.  Hawking and Mlodinow base their positions on a model-dependent realism approach.  This ultimately voids all objective claims and their objections to design, primarily due to their confidence in M-Theory.

            [3] The argument, when combined with a cumulative case, may then be exported as philosophy of religion, but for now, the methods and data that will be examined will be done so from a scientific and philosophical perspective.

             [4] The method of uniformitarianism is currently understood in the scientific community as an assumption of the regular course of events as well as catastrophism (which would be implied by the presently known cause and effect relationships).

            [5] This is not based on religious explanations or religious experience.

            [6] In the words of Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell (New York:  Harper Collins, 2009), 153.  Charles Peirce, Collected Papers, 2:375; “Abduction and Induction.”

            [7] Peirce, Collected Papers, 2:375.

            [8] Stephen C. Meyer, “A Scientific History—and Philosophical Defense—of the Theory of Intelligent Design.” W. P. Alston, “The Place of the Explanation of Particular Facts in Science,” Philosophy of Science 38 (1971):  13-34.  W. B. Gallie, “Explanations in History and the Genetic Sciences” in Theories of History:  Readings from Classical and Contemporary Sources (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1959), 386-402. Michael Scriven, “Explanation and Prediction in Evolutionary Theory,” Science 130 (1959):  477-482.

            [9] Meyer, Signature in the Cell, 154.

August 1st, 2011

Anthropic Reasoning and the Illusion of Intelligent Design

by Max Andrews

I’m currently doing research for my graduate thesis on the fine-tuning of the multiverse and I was reading an essay by Alan Guth titled “Eternal Inflation and Its Implications.”  I’m not a physicist nor do I have much formal training in the sciences.  Most of what I know is self-learned (and that’s not saying too much).  I waded through Guth’s equations and arrived at what implications Guth found in inflationary cosmology.  This is more my field–applying theory and interpreting the data.  What I found interesting.

I admire Guth for his attempt to not invoke unnecessary explanatory entities or hypotheses; however, at what point and extent in theory does an explanation become unnecessary or even illusory?  He states, “Anthropic reasoning can give the illusion of intelligent design without the need for intelligent intervention.” This anthropic reasoning asks the question, “Why is it the case that we find the parameters for life so finely-tuned?”  Guth takes the physical sciences as far as they are able to go in an attempt to give an account for the fine-tuning of the universe, an attempt he believes the multiverse is able to sufficiently account for without intelligent design.  Sure, that’s fine with me, it’s still a question of theory.  At what point does the best explanation become the best explanation?  It appears that the best explanation is intelligent design but according to Guth (and Leonard Susskind, whom Guth cites) this is actually an illusion.  What is the criteria for labeling one explanation as illusory when the methodology (even methodological naturalism) is the same?  There is certainly more to be said but the philosophy behind this is eschew.