Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Proof for the existence of the Christian God part 1

Proper thanks to anyone who reads the blog today, it's going to be just a little longer than normal – but if you like to think about proof for the existence of God, you may find this informative, or at least thought provoking. So, here's one version of the argument from design, or the teleological argument:

p1. We appear to observe features in nature too complex to have happened by chance
p2. These features exhibit the hallmark appearance of design
p3. Design implies that there must be a designer
c1. Therefore nature must be the result of an intelligent designer
c2. This designer is the Christian God

This argument has quite a few holes, even at a glance. The first premise has some special pleading (applying or removing standards without proper justification in this case) which invalidates it. The assertion that some life is “too complex” to have been produced by evolution is not valid unless we have some evidence for thinking it's true. We can't take an option off the table without presenting good reasons for doing so, and we all know that simply asserting something is possible or impossible doesn't make it so. On top of special pleading it contains a nice straw man fallacy: it states that evolution is a theory of chance, which is inaccurate, and I may even argue is dishonest. When stronger and faster humans are competing with weaker and fatter humans in a game of survival, you can hardly call it chance when the better specimen wins the contest time and time – one type is more adequately suited to compete, and thus live on to pass their genes down. Another problem with premise one is that it's a mere argument from ignorance, basically it says: “I can't understand it, so no one can!” We know this kind of thinking to be silly and invalid; most of us don't understand the operations of our car engines, but it doesn't follow that no one can understand those inner workings.

Moving down to premise two, we see more problems. What is design exactly, and how do we see evidence of it in the nature world? It seems to me to be a little ambiguous, at the very least. I admit the complexity we observe in nature is jaw-dropping, so is nature's beauty, and its appearance of order – as a whole nature is just overwhelming! But simply stating that these qualities cannot occur naturally doesn't fly. Again, we have to demonstrate why our claims are true. This is another instance of special pleading, we can't simply state things as fact and expect it to pass through the logic filter. Certainly, no theologian would let me assert that a large purple dragon is responsible for all the “design” we see in the world, they would certainly pin me down on this stupid assertion – and they would be right to do so since I don't have any proper evidence to backup my dragon claim. This standard must be applied equally to any position within the discussion, if we want to be honest anyways.

Now, since we've established one or more bad premises, we are not required to continue entertaining this argument. The rules are simple: if we run into a bad premise, we can stop reading and put the argument aside since it's a non-starter, it failed due to a bad premise. If we choose to continue, we do so out of curiosity, or some other interest, not because the argument is sound, or intellectual honesty demands it. But, I'd like to continue looking at the design argument, even if it's belly up.

The conclusion(s), like the premises, are less than acceptable. Though there are a few problems with the conclusion(s), I'll just stick to the one I think is the most interesting and run with it: why does it have to be God A, B, or C? What empirically valid evidence do we have to conclude that the complexity we see is the handiwork of the God of Abraham, or Baal, or any of the deities of the Canaanites? It seems like a waste of time to go this far into the argument just to fall back on wish thinking. Since one party can insert the Christian God (CG) into this hole that's been fallaciously manufactured, what stops another party from inserting their God? What if the ever popular Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) wants a turn being injected into the argument? Can we put forward good reasons to deny him and his complex carbohydrates? I don't think so. Our inability to deny the FSM is one of the reasons this argument doesn't work for the CG: inability to support the claim that any particular God is the cause of the perceived “design”. There is so much more to say about the teleological argument, but this is a blog post, not an essay, so we'll end here.

BONUS! As a reward for those of you who are still reading, here's a real treat... Bertrand Russell had the following to say about the subject of design in our universe:

"Really I am not much impressed with the people who say: "Look at me: I am such a splendid product that there must have been design in the universe." I am not very much impressed by the splendor of those people. Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is merely a flash in the pan; it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions and temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending -- something dead, cold, and lifeless".

Thanks for reading!

Digg this


Drew said...

I much prefer proof by assumption:

p) I believe God exists.
c) God exists.

Parabola said...

I've been won over, meet me @ church.

shreddakj said...

Well written rebuttal. I think one of the important things to remember as well when encountering a discussion of the argument from complexity or design, is that life ISN'T too complicated to have evolved, and it demonstrably so.

PhillyChief said...

Have you ever heard Douglas Adams' tale about the puddle and the hole? Great answer to the design arguments. Anyway, nice dismantling.

Parabola said...

Thanks, Douglas Adams is just insane -- I wish I could write half as well as he could.

Post a Comment