Teleological and Cosmological Arguments

B. The argument from indirect experience. (The teleological argument or argument from design)

1. God exists because the world is a showcase of His works and confirms His existence. Maybe we cannot get God to take center stage, but there may be something just as good. We know that, in criminal trials, indirect or circumstantial evidence is more reliable than eye-witness accounts. So, let's not worry too much about the criticism of mystical experience. Let's see if we can come up with an argument that uses circumstantial evidence rather than eye-witness accounts. Most scientists and detectives use such a method of relying on indirect evidence. For example, suppose someone tells Sherlock Holmes that he saw the suspect at the scene of the crime. Sherlock finds evidence at the crime site such as footprints which match the suspect's shoes, threads which match the fabric of the suspects clothing, a knife with the suspect's fingerprints on it and a credit card with the suspect's name on it. Sherlock and the prosecuting attorney can make a case that the suspect committed the crime, a strong case even without eye-witness testimony. In fact, the eye-witness testimony could actually be left out, for eyewitness testimony is not as "factual" as material evidence. Believe it or not, many homicide trials are confounded by conflicting eye-witness testimonies. Prosecuting attorneys tend to avoid them unless they are truly reliable.

In Asimov's story, Cutie uses reason and a lot of indirect evidence to reach his conclusion that the Master exists. Are there similar arguments to show that God exists? Let's look at a synopsis of Cutie's argument to gain insight into a kind of argument which we may find useful.

Here's Cutie's argument in outline form.

1. There are devices on the space station which admit of design; that is, there are instruments that clearly are designed to achieve some purpose (telos means end, order, goal or design). A design is evidence that there is a purpose to be served; a watch has an intricate design for the purpose of telling time. Order or design indicates a purpose for the design, a telos or goal to be achieved.

2. For every effect or order that admits of design, there must be a cause that sufficiently explains the order considered as an effect.

3. The effect cannot be greater than the cause; a lessor power or intelligence cannot create or cause a greater more sophisticated design.

4. Humans are not as perfect or great an instrument as Cutie, who, obviously, has superior design for the important tasks of running the station.

5. It follows from the above that humans could not have created Cutie.

6. Cutie did not create himself.

7. Therefore, the Master created Cutie.

The argument is an argument that has the form of an analogy. We use these kinds of arguments all the time. In mathematics, the arguments can give us precise answers. For example, suppose we were asked to determine the value of x (an unknown) in an equation. We know the following. 2 is to 12 as x is to 24. In symbolic notation, 2/12 = x/24. By knowing the placeholders and their relations to one another, we can use that knowledge to determine the unknown factor x to be 4. Cutie does the same with respect to the Master. Cause/effect = Designer/order = x (the Master)/ Cutie. For Cutie, the best explanation for the placeholder x is the Master.

What about us? How can we explain our existence by looking at facts in the world and facts about ourselves? Consider the following.

1. There are entities in the universe that admit of intricate design, which design obviously has some end or purpose. For example, clams have shells that protect their bodies. Spiders have the capability to spin complex webs to catch prey. Humans have brains in order to prefect themselves. Our eyes are designed so that we can see. The earth orbits the sun in a specific orbit preferable to living organisms. The universe has many identifiable orders that enable life to form and flourish on the earth.

2. For every effect or order which admits of design, there must be a cause which sufficiently explains the effect.

3. The effect cannot be greater than the cause; a lessor power or intelligence cannot create a greater more sophisticated design.

4. There are certain orders and designs in the universe that are not self-explanatory. They are the laws of nature and man, especially his theoretical, moral and aesthetic powers. Human beings did not create themselves or the orders of the universe. Nor does it sound reasonable to say that the orders and designs created themselves. Considered are effects, the laws of the universe and man require a cause.

5. God must exist, for only He could create such laws and man.

Here's the argument in a nutshell analogy form: cause/effect = designer/design (purpose) = God/laws of nature, the beautiful, man. Not convincing, huh? Let me tell a story as an aid of exposition.

You are a master detective on a summertime cruise around the world. There is a hurricane and you are washed overboard. Amazingly, you find some floating debris, drift around for days hanging on to it, wash up on a small tropical island and slowly make your way to the central part of the island seeking fresh water and food. You find food and water, recover your strength, build a hut and survive. Weeks go by without seeing any search and rescue ships or planes. At the end of the third month, you have pretty well explored the island except for one small cove at the northern end. You decide to examine it and set out on an all-day excursion. When you get to the cove you notice a cave in one side of the hill that fronts the cove. You decide to explore the cave inasmuch as it would offer a refuge in case of another hurricane.

When you enter the cave, you notice something strange right away. There is wall to wall carpeting, a kitchen with a stove and microwave oven, a TV, hi-fi stereo, a comfortable sofa, indirect lighting, beautiful paintings and sculptures and a hot-tub. There is even a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee on the counter of the stove. You yell, search, rattle pans --do everything in your power to attract attention. But no one shows up. You come back later and the coffee is gone. Again, you try to find someone about, but your efforts are all in vain. For days this goes on, and you are never successful in locating anyone, not even when new paintings appear on a wall.

Your being a master detective, what would be your thoughts about the situation? Would you say that these artifacts or things that admit of intricate design and beauty are no more than chance formations of stalagmites and stalactites which have unusual formation rates? Are these mere random events thrown together by chance to produce order, design and beauty, but which have no cause? Do these things simply explain themselves? No way. No detective in his right mind would answer yes to these questions. The obvious answer is that there is someone else on the island with you who is responsible for these things, but who is reluctant for some reason to reveal him/herself to you. You do not come to the conclusion that you are still alone.

The same is true of our existence in the world. There are laws and orders in the world which do not explain their own existence. There is beauty in the world which is a mystery unless we conclude that someone (God) put it there. Even our own being cannot be explained without God. How so? Take a look at your finger. What is it? In chemical terms, it consists of many kinds of atoms in various configurations. But wait. Just how many atoms are we talking about? More than we can imagine. But, let us take a look at one very special kind of atom, a carbon atom. The carbon atom is a miracle of design. It has a valence of +4 and is able to do spectacular things in virtue of its ability to form covalent bonds. What is a covalent bond? It is a bond in which the electron of the outer orbital is shared by another atom. In other words, when carbon atoms bond together through covalent bonds, the outer electron is shared. In terms of a chemical picture, this type of sharing is the equivalent of a Mona Lisa. Talk about a beautiful "community sharing!" At any rate, the good thing about such bonds is that they allow carbon atoms to form long strings making the existence of proteins possible. Without proteins, there would be no life. A carbon atom is a wonderful thing, biologically.

Now suppose that I were to say that a carbon atom is to a biologist as a Ferrari is to an auto-phile (someone who loves automobiles). Imagine yourself walking down the street one day and there is a brand new Ferrari. "Wow! How exciting," you say to yourself and spend a good thirty minutes looking it over and marveling at its beauty and precision. Then you walk on. But, in only another one hundred yards, there is another Ferrari, just exactly like the other one. "What a coincidence," you think to yourself while you look over the second Ferrari. You spend a few minutes and then walk on. And there's another Ferrari. Just like the other two. In fact, every one hundred yards, as far as you can see, there is a Ferrari. Something is up. Ferraris just don't appear out of nowhere in such great numbers. There must be some cause sufficient to explain WHY and HOW all these Ferraris got here. They just didn't happen.

Carbon atoms are biological Ferraris. Only, in your finger, there are billions upon billions of them. Now in a world of random cosmic goo, we might expect to find a few carbon atoms by chance. But we don't. There are so many that we cannot imagine the number. How are there so many of these biologically beautiful things, these biological Ferraris? The answer must be that God made them according to His specifications. What other answer could suffice? They just didn't appear on the scene as randomly caused results of some natural processes; there are simply too many of them. Humans with their composite carbon atoms are just too complexly elegant to be the result of causes that admit of no mind or intelligence. Carbon atoms and humans require a satisfactory explanation. Only God can be the sufficient explanation for the infinite orders of the universe. God must exist.

2. A problem with the teleological argument; that there is an effect does not establish the identity or certainty of existence of a particular cause. But, of course, there is Asimov's story of Cutie to return and haunt us. Have we gone wrong in thinking that there is a God in the same way that Cutie thinks that the converter is the creator of himself and the space station? Could be. Consider the following. What if the items found in the cave (all except the cups of coffee and the paintings) were made in 1990 (there are dates of manufacture on them). Can we be sure that the maker of these items is still around? The answer is no. Effects can last in many cases longer than their causes. So, the teleological argument only shows that God at one time existed, that He may exist now, but not that He does exist. That there are effects in the world does no guarantee that the creator of the effects is still around. Moreover, reaching conclusions by analogies may not turn out to be as satisfying as we would hope. In mathematics, the method works because all of the components are precise. We can find the precise answer to the problem, 2/4=3/x (x must be 6) because the components and relations are rigidly specified and defined. But, when we use analogies with ambiguous definitions and unclear relational properties, the conclusion reflects that imprecision. What do we mean by saying that there are orders and designs that are apparent? How are the laws of the universe purposeful? Worse, for every law or order we can do two things. First, we can designate a specific cause or god to it, in which case we end up with more gods than the Greeks ever thought of having. Second, we can note that there are disorders that seem to be as prevalent as orders. Correspondingly, we must come up with an Evil Genius to match the disorders as effects. The teleological argument just is not logically tight enough for us. At best, it shows that God may exist (not that He does exist), and at worst, that there are an innumerable number of gods (some good, some bad), one god for each effect noted. In fact, the teleological argument is an inductive argument. And, we know that the premises of an inductive argument can be true, yet the conclusion still be denied, which is what happens with the teleological argument. Everyone agrees that there are orders and design in the universe. The mistake comes in when we conclude that God is the only possible cause of those effects.

Let's take a look at a tighter argument.

C. The argument for a sufficient explanation. The cosmological argument.

1. The cosmological argument is a deductive argument that argues that the world (the cosmos) cannot sufficiently explain its own existence; God is necessary to explain the existence of the world. Here's where the going gets fun. Previously, we have encountered arguments that relied a lot upon sense experience for truth-value. With the argument from mystic experience, the direct encounter with God seemed to be all that we needed. But, as we noted, God is an external object and, if we are still going along with Descartes (which we are), we know that sense data is highly suspicious. Our sensory experience of God could be only a hallucination. We cannot know with certainty that our idea of God corresponds to the real thing or is even caused by Him. The teleological argument fares a little better, even though it relies on experiences which we can all have and agree upon. When we make the judgment that God is the cause of the experiences which we hypothesize are creations of His, that judgment is suspect. It could very well be that He is not the cause. There are countless other causes which could account for the effects. In fact, the effects could be self-caused; they are just there.

Obviously, there is a connection between certainty and experience or sense data; certainty in an argument tends to decrease the more we rely on sense data. That sounds strange. We would expect that the more evidence we had for a thesis, the more probable the truth of the thesis would be. But, think of the matter this way. Suppose I were to argue to prove the existence of gremlins. Premise 1. If there are gremlins, then we would expect that whenever we stepped on the cracks of the sidewalk during a day something bad will happen. Premise 2. We step on the cracks of a sidewalk on various days, and bad things happen each of those days. Conclusion. Therefore, there are gremlins. In a nutshell form, if p then q, q, therefore p. A great many of us think this way; if John is a bad dude then we will expect bad behavior from him. We get bad behavior from John. Therefore, he is a bad dude.

But, the form of the argument is fallacious as a deductive argument. Just think. The bad luck we had on the days we stepped on the cracks of the sidewalk could be due to other causes, not stepping on the cracks. John's bad behavior may be from some external coercion; he may not be bad, but is being forced to do wrong things. Anyway you look at it, if we are after certainty in a conclusion, we need to rely on valid deductive reasoning in a pure form more than experience and inductive reason. And that's what we're going to do in the next argument.

Here's the argument in a "Reader's Digest" form of the cosmological argument (cosmos means the world or whole) for the existence of God.

Premise 1. We have some experience of the world right now. You are reading this material. That is all the event that is needed.

Premise 2. Neither the world, nor any experience of it can explain sufficiently that they exist. Why? Because the world, or our experience of it at any point of our analysis, can always be considered as effects that need to be explained by some prior cause.

Premise 3. Things that cannot explain their own existence require something more concrete to explain them. Put another way, contingent things require at least one necessary thing to explain them.

Conclusion. God is the necessary being which explains the world, our being in it and our experiences of it. If it were not for God, the world, with us and our experiences, wouldn't be.

O.K. So the argument's a bit stilted. Here's an everyday form of it analogous to the real thing.

I have a daughter who likes rock and roll. I have a stereo that is a good one. She likes to play it. Loudly! The following is a typical "conversation" between my daughter and me.

"Katie, you are playing my stereo too loudly. You're going to blow a speaker," I shout at her over the blare from a song of Crash Test Dummies.

"Don't worry, dad. I'm not going to hurt your stereo. It's not too loud."


"Why do you want me to turn it down? You know I like to listen to it on your system," she yells while gyrating to the music.

"I told you; it will blow a speaker," I reply.

"So. We can get it fixed," she counters.

"I don't want to have to get my stereo fixed. Just turn down the volume." I am holding my fingers in my ears by this point.

"But, why. There must be a further reason?"

"Because I have to work hard to pay for the system," I shout back stamping my foot.

"But, why? Don't you enjoy work?"

"Yes, I enjoy work, but I don't want to spend money needlessly," I say.

"But, it's not needless. I'm enjoying your stereo. There must be some deeper reason." She is now doing an air-guitar routine.

I can bet that you know what I say next. Which is, "The deep reason is that you will turn it down because I say so! We could go on forever with this line of conversation. What you need is a concrete answer which is, Turn down the machine because I say so!"

Likewise, with the universe and ourselves, we could go on forever coming up with half-baked reasons or explanations of its existence and why things are the way they are. Like my daughter, someone could always ask, how does that explanation of the world explain itself or is sufficient? The world simply does not explain itself. Therefore, God, who does explain Himself, must exist. For Big Bang believers, the important question to ask is what went on years before the Big Bang? What or who made the Big Bang possible, given that it and the world just do not explain themselves? The answer is God. God is the necessary being who gives "existential support" to the world that consists of contingent beings, beings whose existence is not self-guaranteed.

2. Problems with the cosmological argument; what if we consider God as an effect? "Ah," you say. "Wait a minute. How is it that the world does not explain itself, but God does? How is He a necessary thing, while everything else is contingent; how is God's existence necessary or self-guaranteeing, but that of the world and the things in it is only contingent and not self-guaranteeing?"

Good question. God, considered as an effect, not a cause, is just as contingent as the world. In which case, we may simply say that the world explains its own being.

But this leads us to Descartes' argument for God. It is his Ace of trump.

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