The Teleological Argument for God’s Existence

The next step in evidences that seem to support the existence of a God is the Teleological (try saying that five times fast) Argument. Most famously argued by Thomas Aquinas, this argument has become vast and the Intelligent Design movement puts a lot of focus on this argument. The name of the argument comes from the Greek “Telos” which means “reason” or “purpose.” The basic idea is that the universe appears to have a purposeful design that would be highly unlikely and even mathematically impossible to have come about by random chance. To illustrate the principals behind this arguement I will give an example that is my own telling of an story that has seen countless permutations in other apologetic works.

Imagine that an astronaut was stranded on Mars, but instead of the incredible journey depicted in the recent film, The Martian, the astronaut walks over one of the hills to find a space-house. He walks to this house and finds it fully stocked with his favorite foods and a special garden outback with apple trees, tomato plants, and all sorts of vegetables. He finds that in this building the O2 levels are exactly what is needed to sustain human life. He finds a bed that is tailor-made for a person of his height and a copy of his favorite novel, David Copperfield, on the nightstand. On the home stereo system he finds the entire U2 catalog and several other of his favorite bands. He then lives in great comfort until he is rescued by NASA.

One would never argue that this space house was built on Mars by random chance. One could argue from the evidence that somehow this space house was made for our astronaut. Another example comes from the real world work of archeologists. Archeologists are constantly looking for evidence of human intelligent design. There are rocks that are found to have been shaped very crudely and archeologists can find that the rocks were shaped for a purpose, that the shape of the rocks were intelligently designed. All of this is merely to show the persuasive power of such evidence. When we look at the teleological argument, we are looking for clues that the universe may have been “made for us.” None of the following evidences prove the existence of an Intelligent Designer, but it does make the argument that somehow random forces in nature caused the existence of the Universe, the Earth, and Life seem pretty far-fetched.

First, the fine-tuning argument takes an expansive look at the balance of forces and constants in the universe that make life possible. Everything from the strength of gravity (too little and no solar systems form, too great and the universe would collapse in on itself) to the specific combination of factors that create the conditions found on Earth are seen as combining to reduce the likelihood of a natural explanation. The mathematics of the fine-tuning argument are astonishing. It is simply amazing how many factors had to line up in order to create the stable universe and the fertile hot-bed of life that is Earth. You may understand some of what is meant by considering the work of some scientists that focuses on finding planets that meet the minimum requirements for life. There are no planets that come anywhere near the minimum requirements for any ecology that we have seen on earth. There are certain theorists who have considered non-carbon based life forms that may have an entirely different set of prerequisites for life and there are so many planets we have not gathered enough information on (including planets not known about at all) that there is still plenty of room for the possibility of another life-filled planet.

All told, when one takes the mathematical likelihood that all of these conditions come about by chance (and I have met a brilliant mathematician who has written books that center on this math) we find that the odds are mathematically impossible. One number showed that the odds were such that they were 1 in 10^10^123 (Penrose, 2005) That number is so vast that it greatly surpasses the number of atoms in the universe. The argument basically concludes that the universe is less likely to have occurred by random chance then by an intelligent designer.

The other most persuasive evidence comes from the amazing miracle of life, specifically DNA. The information contained within DNA is unbelievably complex and is effectively the blueprints of all life. The idea that the remarkable consistency and complexity expressed within a strand of DNA could have developed in absence of any design or intent seems extremely unlikely. The current scientific theory of evolution claims that all of this develops over a great amount of time by random chance acted upon by natural selection. There are a few issues that I feel have never been fully answered in anything I have read or heard.

First, how did life begin? This is an extremely difficult point because there is no way to “study” this beginning. Scientists have been able to synthesize protein in a lab, but they had to intelligently design the conditions and materials in order to make that happen. And even then, it has not created a living organism. There is no mechanism or system for the generation of life in nature aside from other life.

Second, when I have heard scientists defend evolution’s ability to create the marvelous, functioning diversity seen today they laud Natural Selection as the answer to all questions. It’s not random, it’s natural selection. Natural Selection is a contradiction in terms. Nature is not an entity that can select anything. Random mutations (even over billions of years) cannot make “progress” in any of the ways that word is traditionally used. Natural selection claims that the most successful mutations will succeed in procreating and those mutations will be passed on to an even more successful generation. The famous example that seems to defeat this theory asks us to imagine monkeys with a type writer. How long would it take for them to write Shakespeare? For the sake of the illustration, let us assume that they are actually pressing the keys (when tested in real life, this experiment seldom resulted in keys being pressed unless the monkey was taught to do so). Then let us assume that they are using a computer which will take the full words they type and lift it out of the endless stream of random letters. Even were these conditions met (two conditions that required intelligent intervention) the monkeys or a random letter generator would not type more than a single line of Shakespeare in the entire time the universe has existed. Again, I will say that there are books written on this subject that defend these claims mathematically. One such work is Understanding Intelligent Design and I would highly recommend it as a good entry point for all of the ideas in this post.

As an alternate proposal that may make sense of some of the problems raised in this post, let us imagine that there were a powerful force or being that intelligently designed the universe to match the criteria necessary for stability and life. Then that being or force also manufactured organisms with DNA that was programmed to mutate and develop successfully into greater and greater viable diversity. This seems a much more reasonable postulation than solely relying on random chance to develop the universe we see today. Mathematically, it seems improbable or even impossible for a purely physical “closed” (without the influence of any external force or being) universe to have developed to the place we live in today.

One other response to these arguments is the multi-world hypothesis that I addressed last post. Depending on which model of the multi-world hypothesis that is being used, this would undercut the argument by saying there are an infinite (or near infinite) number of universes in all variations and ours would have to be one of them because of the necessity of infinity. The problems I have with these hypotheses are two-fold: first, it seems to fail the test of Occam’s Razor. We have an infinitely complex answer that has limited explanatory power and raises more questions than it answers. The questions of the origin of the universe become multiplied in these models. It also seems to have no evidence beyond theoretical mathematics. Even in that realm, multi-world hypotheses only have limited success in mathematical models of the universe. Secondly, the logical problem with the idea of an actual infinite verses a theoretical infinite looms again. Even if you had a multi-world generator constantly generating an infinite number of universes, how would we have arrived at this point in history in this universe. Also, there would have to be a universe generated which encroached upon all other universes and we would have to see evidence of these infinite encroaching universes. Infinity cannot exist, but only be theorized (which is why we can have any success with infinite universes in “theoretical” mathematics).

These evidences seems to take us from a force that had the ability to generate the universe to an intelligent force that could design functioning systems and complexity and even create life. This does not necessarily lead to a Judeo-Christian God and these arguments do no necessitate such a force or being; the arguments exist solely as issues that seem to be most adequately explained by a force as I just described. Thanks for reading.

6 Comments

  1. Before I upset you David Copperfield is one of my favorite books and Charles Dickens was a devout believer.
    I expect you have read Richard Dawkins ‘The Blind Watchmaker’.
    He got the name from the Reverent William Paley who put forward the argument before Darwin.
    It may surprize some that Mr Dawkins confesses he would have been a believer had he been born before Darwin.
    I think its Richards best book it is about his own area of expertees.
    Natural selection has no purpose , follows no plan looks to no future.
    The changes it brings about are not just due to mutation Darwin had never heard about that or genes.
    Darwin argued on environmental changes only. Richard Dawkins believes the complexity we see today which looks just like design is due to natural selection and that Charles Darwin proved that.
    He calls natural selection the blind watchmaker after William Paley.
    Now I’m just a layman in expert hands so all I can do in many cases is accept the consensus.

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    1. Thanks for the comment!
      I need to read that book in order to fully reply, but the fact that unguided evolution is consensus could definitely be challenged. There are more theistic believers in the world than atheists. I am not necessarily arguing against evolution, but suggesting that theistic evolution at least seems more persuasive. Also, in order to give evidence against the appearance of design, I think Dawkins must do much more than point to natural selection which has no power beyond the fact that more “useful” mutations may possibly cause an animal to survive and pass on genes that may possibly manifest themselves in a useful way in the next generation. It also does not necessarily answer any questions about the fine-tuning of the universe.
      Thanks for engaging the ideas!

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      1. I did not mention fine-tuning to which I have two objections the first is emotional the second the abuse of the laws of chance.
        If I stand on the top of a high mountain in the sun and think to myself.
        How marvellous over millions of years this mountain was erroded and shaped so I could climb it and admire the veiw. Not only that the clouds were dispersed and the veiw exposed for my pleasure on this exact day at this exact moment in time.
        Such thinking is preposterously conceited but to put it much better than I can.
        ‘A little madness in the Spring
        Is wholesome even for the King,
        But God be with the Clown–
        Who ponders this tremendous scene–
        This whole Experiment of Green—
        As if it were his own!’
        If ten years before I stood on that peak I worked out the chances of my being there at that moment of time in those circumstances they would have been exceedingly small.
        One last point about natural selection. Most of us are layman; we look to the experts for confirmation.
        Among the millions of theists are a few experts, but the majority of scientific experts are not theists we must take the expert consensus.

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      2. In answer to the law of chances reply:
        There is a major difference between the chances that you would be on a mountain that had a pretty view and that the entire universe came into existence. Slim chances and infinitesimally small chances are different in scale. Also, that beautiful scene on the mountain is like starting with a random number generator and happening to fall on a particular number, the existence of the universe is like starting with a bunch of atoms and then saying that they randomly became a random number generator that then spit out a particular number.
        As for you consensus arguments, I have two responses. The existence of God is not within the purview of science. Scientific evidence can point to the existence of God, but it cannot point away from a God because the existence of God lies wholly within the discipline of philosophy/theology. There is no reason to take a scientific experts consensus on the matter any more than taking a consensus of philosophy experts opinion on the theory of general relativity. Also, where do you get your numbers that say that most scientists are atheists? There is no reason to believe that is true without the statistics to back that. Thanks again for the engaging response!

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