Tuesday, 4 December 2018

The Argument From Design

This post has been inspired by a chance encounter with a young ‘Jehovah Witness’ a scant four months ago. We had just moved to our present property, but not a week, when we received a visit from the delightful JWs. As I grew up in a JW household I am familiar with JW doctrine and teaching. Needless to say, I rebelled against the ‘truth’ from an early age and consequently suffered much physical and psychological trauma that could only be mustered and inflicted by an evil cult. This is not the topic of discussion, today, or for that matter, any day for reasons I’m sure you can discern.
I am well aware of the JW opening gambit to the exclamation: “I am an atheist”. The term atheist triggers an automatic response and the recipient immediately launches into a well-rehearsed argument for the existence of ‘God’ based on the argument from design. This argument comes in several flavours and is highly popular with Christian apologists and theologians. In its most sophisticated form, the argument can become quite technical, but we need not enter this particular tepid/fetid pool of sophistry. For our purposes, I’ll consider the simple manifestation of this approach as proposed by the JW brethren. Indeed, this argument was expounded by the 19th century (1802) English cleric, William Paley. However, Paley was not the originator of the argument and it is derived from Cicero in the 1st century BC. Paley’s version, perhaps a pale version, is detailed below and in his own words:        
…….” suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. ... There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. ... Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.”

— William Paley, Natural Theology (1802)
The implication, of course, is that ‘the artificer’ is God and not just any god, but the God of Christianity. Paley is clearly aware that even if his argument was proved sound it does not rule out the possibility of a host of deities and is not exclusively in accord with the monotheistic Abrahamic God. 
The ‘proof’ is reliant upon analogy and assumes that if two items are alike in one respect then it follows that they are alike in another respect. In this case: watch is complex, watch has a designer; life/universe is complex, life/universe has a designer i.e. God.  However, there is no logical basis for such a fusion of concepts. Also, the argument fails due to its inherent assumption: order and complexity can only arise by intelligent design. But this is clearly not the case. For instance, consider evolution by natural selection. Evolution results in complexity by mutation and genetic variation shaped by environmental factors. In the case of evolution, there is no conscious designer but complexity exists nonetheless.
There is also the problem of the ‘self-refuting fallacy’. In this respect, the conclusion denies the premises. Surely, God should be envisaged as complex and therefore following on from Paley’s thesis, God must have a designer……….. This could be extended to an infinite sequence, each God being created by another God, ad infinitum. Most Christians would not be particularly happy with this conclusion for reasons obvious even unto a dullard (Ard).     
The above refutations are based on an appeal to logic and reason, however, we don’t have to rely on irrefutable logic in order to give the design notion a thorough and concise kicking.
My final illustration is an argument from ‘perfect form’. If we envisage God as perfect then it follows that all that he creates must be perfect. For how can a perfect deity produce faulty goods? It is clearly the case that, from an engineering perspective, perfection does not abide in God’s creations. The way out of this perverse conundrum, for the theist at least, is to argue that ‘god’ is not perfect and therefore his craftsmanship is often shonky. There are many examples that I could posit here. Consider inherent design defects in the human body such as the presence of vestigial organs and the ill-considered placement of organs. How about birth defects and perverse and life-destroying genetic maladies? I’ve discussed this aspect of ‘design’ in a previous post: check it out here
So, there you have it. Are you convinced by my refutation? If not, I suggest you visit your local JWs (how's that for a novelty?), for they have some good news which they would like to share with you. Good luck. 


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