Analysis of Two Variants of Design Arguments

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Does the design argument successfully establish the existence of a cosmic creator? In this essay, infinityfrost examines the classical teleological argument and the modern fine-tuning argument to
determine the veridicality of these theistic claims

Submitted: February 26, 2018

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Submitted: February 26, 2018



The design argument has taken on many variations since its initial conception, ranging from William Paley’s argument from teleological systems (also known as the teleological argument) to more recent versions of the argument (also known as the fine-tuning argument) used by contemporary philosophers to justify the necessary preconditions for life in this universe and that the unlikelihood of these anthropic coincidences is evidence for the existence of an intelligent designer. My aim in this paper would be to demonstrate that these arguments do not provide us with sufficient grounds for concluding that a God exists.

The design argument is as follows, as stated in Rowe’s book. First, machines are produced by intelligent design. Second, many natural parts of the universe resemble machines. Therefore, the universe was produced by intelligent design. Paley attempts to demonstrate this comparing the complexity of living things to the complexity of a watch. Just as a watch cannot exist without a watchmaker, Paley argues that living things cannot exist without a designer. I shall grant the second premise and discuss the problems with the first premise.

Let us examine the first premise, the notion of machines being produced by intelligent design might appear intuitive given Paley’s watch analogy. However, a distinction needs to be drawn between natural machines (such as living things) and man-made machines. While our world of contemporary experience provides us with ample reasons to suppose that man-made machines are the product of an external creator, we have no reasons to suppose that the same is true for natural machines. The Darwinian theory of natural selection is one possible explanation for the existence of natural machines, and what natural selection tries to show is that living things have evolved over time and adapted to suit their environments in order to survive. Given that a naturalistic explanation is more probable than a supernaturalistic one, it would be fair to suppose that the first premise doesn’t hold in the face of competing theories.  The soundness of an argument is contingent on whether the argument’s premises are true, and since the first premise is questionable at best, it follows that the conclusion of the design argument is not true.

Next, I shall be addressing the fine-tuning argument, which seeks to show that the mere fact that life can exist in this universe is evidence that an intelligent designer exists. For instance, the fine-tuning argument references many physical constants which have to be at the right values in order for life to exist, and claims that the improbability of such an event points to the existence of intelligent design. One example would be the cosmological constant, where it is said that life in our universe would not exist if the cosmological value deviated slightly from its current value of 2.90×10?122.

While the argument makes an impressive appeal to a number of statistics to support its conclusion, there are three problems with such a line of reasoning.

Firstly, the argument appeals to the improbability of a physical constant being that of a certain value. However, probability estimates are only valid if all outcomes are equally probable, and there is no reason to suppose that as probabilities depend on our background information of outcomes. Given that we only have evidence for one universe generated from the big bang, we are not in a position to determine the probability of life-favoring universes.

Secondly, even if we grant that all outcomes are equally probable, there are still naturalistic explanations for life on this universe. For instance, cosmologists have constructed a model of multiverses which seeks to show that our universe could simply be one of the possible universes. Therefore, it would be statistically probable that there is one possible universe favourable to life out of a potentially infinite number of universes.

Thirdly, when we examine the cosmological constant, we can see that there actually exists a non-denumerable number of possible cosmological constants which is favorable to life since there exists an infinity of values between 2.90×10-122 .and 2.91×10-122 (for instance, 2.901×10-122, 2.9011×10-122, 2.90111×10-122 and ad infinitum). Therefore, the fine-tuning argument fails to show that the probability of an infinite number of life-favoring universes is less likely to be actualized than an infinite number of universes which are not able to support life.

In conclusion, while the teleological argument and fine-tuning argument might appear intuitive, what I’ve tried to show in this paper is that the premises of these two arguments are much more problematic than most readers would suppose. With regards to the teleological argument, I have argued that the watchmaker analogy is disanalogous with natural machines (such as living things) and that other naturalistic theories exist to explain the complexity of life in this universe. As for the fine-tuning argument, I have argued that the probability estimates used are incorrect, that other naturalistic models have been proposed by modern cosmologists to explain the origins of the purported anthropic coincidences and that the probability of physical constants existing is much more mathematically complex than the one put forth by the fine-tuning argument.

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