Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Teleological Argument (Part 1)

The teleological argument for God is based on the idea that the natural order of things in the universe points to a Designer that stands outside of it (the Greek telos means roughly 'end' or 'purpose'). Of the many arguments for God's existence, this one has gotten a bit of a bad rap lately.

Usually associated with guys like William Paley--you may recall his (in)famous 'watchmaker' analogy--the general conception among educated folk these days is that since Darwin, there is no need for such outdated ideas about design.

I beg to differ.

In fact, it seems that the more we learn about our universe--particularly its beginning--the more obviously and readily the inference to design presents itself.

Without further ado, the argument:

(1) The fine-tuning of the universe is either due to physical necessity, chance, or design.
(2) It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
(3) The fine-tuning of the universe is due to design.

And of course if design, then a designer.

In the next post, we'll examine the two premises in more detail, but here I want to get clear on what is meant by 'fine-tuning.' *

If you express the laws of nature mathematically, they contain what are called 'constants.' Basically, these are values that are not themselves determined by the laws; they just are the values they are. For example, in Einstein's famous E = mc2, the constant 'c' is the speed of light.

Well it turns out that in order for the universe to permit life at all (much less life at the advanced scale we see), the values of the various cosmological constants must fall within an extraordinarily small range of possible values. Further, there are quite a few of these constants, and they all have to obtain independently, or else no life. This means that in order to calculate the probability of our universe developing complex life, we have to take the already ridiculously unlikely odds of each constant and then multiply them.

These odds are really impossible to illustrate accurately, so I won't even try. Just picture as many blue marbles as there are atoms in the universe and one red one. Now imagine the odds of you picking out the one red marble while blindfolded. If you can picture this, then you still aren't really even close to the kind of odds we're talking about with the constants. Not close at all.

And yet, there they are. And here we are to talk about it. Next time, we'll consider the options that have been offered to explain this other than design. 

* For a more detailed explanation of this, see the Featured Video on the lower right side of the page. If you're viewing this in your email inbox, click here to see the video. Also, you may view it full-screen by clicking the icon in the lower right corner of the video. :)


  1. Finally someone proved that Zeus exists! I knew it! None of this actually proves that the Biblical God exists, and since Zeus is an older idea of godliness than Yahweh, it must have been Zeus!

    ... Do you see the dilemma you put your argument through? An intelligent designer does not automatically equal Yahweh. Only the pompously arrogant would continue to babble and put forth the idea that their God, and only their God is and was always the one creator. This is what happens when philosophers pretend to be scientists. They get things wrong, don't know what they missed, and smile as though they've figured out the great mystery of life. Ignorance truly is bliss. And this is the danger of stupidity in our society. Stupidity is undermining the government and turning our nation into a theocracy. When will the philosopher realize that his role in society is not at all appreciated by the common folk, and his philosophy does not at all make people happier?

  2. Charles: I can always count on you for a quick comment. Thanks for that.

    That said, I wish I had something kind to say about this one. The best I can do is refer you to previous posts in this series where it is made quite clear that not all of the arguments I plan to present entail the Christian God necessarily. I also explain in some detail why this is not a problem at all.

    Interestingly, you seem to be conceding the argument. Do you accept the conclusion that the fine-tuning of the universe is due to design? And if not, then why not respond to the argument actually presented rather than throw out tired, already-dealt-with red herrings?