Thursday, January 24, 2008

"The Teleological Argument"


Chapter Five is the third in a series of chapters critiquing the traditional arguments for the existence of God. To recap, the first of these chapters critiqued the Ontological Argument in a variety of forms. For the most part, I believe that Martin did a decent job in doing so. In the end, I agreed with him that the Ontological Argument is invalid. Next, he critiqued the Cosmological Argument in many forms. While I agreed with his criticisms of the inductive proofs (as presented; I cannot be sure of the accuracy since I am not as familiar with the inductive proofs), I pointed out that his criticisms of the deductive proofs of Craig and Aquinas were at best unfounded. Hence, those arguments, after his critiques, still seem to be valid. That brings us to the present argument, the Teleological Argument. The Teleological Argument is the argument from design. It is commonly quoted as:

P-1: Whatever is designed had a designer
P-2: The universe has the appearance of having been designed
C: Therefore, the universe has the appearance of having had a designer

This argument is a deductive argument based on premises known inductively. Therefore, the most that one could hope to receive from such an argument is probability. Nonetheless, a high probability would at least count against atheism. That being said, as will be brought out later, this argument, taken by itself, fails to be an adequate demonstration of theism. Of course, I do not think that it is entirely worthless. I do think that, when combined with the conclusion of the Cosmological Argument (which does prove theism); the Teleological Argument demonstrates that the Uncaused Cause of the Universe is intelligent and, thus, it is a person (if one follows Aquinas' Five Ways to the Fifth Way I think that one can more adequately understand this). However, this argument is not evaluated by Martin and, thus, I will just leave it here as a statement of my position and proceed to Dr. Martin's arguments.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Dr. Martin begins this chapter by pointing out that the Teleological Argument is an argument based on empirical facts, much like the Cosmological Argument. He then makes the interesting claim that these two arguments are really without distinction—more will be said of this later.

After his short introduction, Martin gives a very short background of the Teleological Argument. He points out that it is usually construed as an argument from analogy, and then gives an example of such a formulation, that of William Paley, as well as a criticism of such a formulation, that of David Hume. In short, Paley introduced what has been famously called the Watchmaker argument. Basically, it is an argument from analogy via contrivance: if one were to come across a watch in nature, the fact that its parts are arranged in such a way as to appear contrived is evidence that the watch had a watchmaker. Likewise, if an object in nature appeared to have such contrivance, that evidence would support the idea of a nature-maker. Before going into the criticisms of this argument given by Hume, which Martin seems to take as authoritative, he points out that the argument from analogy is not the only way to make a Teleological Argument. Thus, he informs us that the rest of this chapter will take on four arguments that will not suffer the same fate as that from analogy (supposedly). After this brief intro, he proceeds with David Hume's criticism of the analogical Teleological Argument found in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

Hume's argument generally attacks the Teleological argument based on its analogical character. He points out that, if analogies were taken to the extreme, the conclusions would not actually be acceptable to theist. For instance, machines often have many makers, and thus the creative force would more closely resemble polytheism. Further, machine makers have bodies so God(s) would have one (each) as well. Finally, machines have imperfections so machine makers must too. Besides this argument by Hume, Martin presents an argument given by Wallace Matson who argues against the analogy of the universe with that of anthropological excavation. Matson maintains that artifacts are judged not according to purpose but according to 'marks' left by tools rather than weather and thus the analogy to anthropological study based on design is unfounded.

After critiquing the analogical argument, Martin proceeds to look at what he claims are the stronger Teleological Arguments, the inductive ones of F.R. Tennant (the chief proponent of theistic evolution), George Schlesinger, Richard Swinburne, and Richard Taylor. In a nutshell, Tennant's argument is one that doesn't rely on particular facts of nature but rather claims to be a sort of cumulative case argument based on probabilities for six kinds of adaption that naturally occur. He basically claims that theism is rationally justifiable, but not deductively proven by his argument. Martin makes many very strong criticisms of Tennant's argument including: 1) it is compatible with polytheism; 2) it comes to non-inductive conclusions; and 3) the evidence used is at times inconclusive. More will be said of these criticisms in the agreements section.

The next two arguments taken on by Martin are those of George Schlesinger and Richard Swinburne. Schlesinger's argument claims that, if one follows the inductive practice of the scientific method, theism is inductively supported. Martin's criticisms of this view included: 1) if the concept of God is inconsistent then the argument fails; 2) judging the credibility based on chosen factors is unjustified (all the evidence need be assessed); 3) the argument doesn't disclude the possibility of polytheism, deism, or another variety of theism; and 4) natural events would cause humans to respond to danger rather than God, but these are controlled by God, so there seems to be a conflict of purposes. Swinburne's argument claims to use considerations derived from induction and confirmation theory. When the evidence is combined, according to Swinburne, theism is more probable. What makes this argument unique is that it argues based on a temporal order, which is supposed to be easier to defend than a spatial order. Martin's critiques of this view include: 1) the argument is based on an assumption that does not fairly take into consideration the other possibilities; 2) this a priori argument is not supported by analogy (ex. Ford manufacturer; cabinet maker; music production); and 3) a world that is more conducive to moral development is easily imagined (even given Swinburne's theory of how morality is developed).

Finally, Dr. Martin critiques Richard Taylor's argument which states that when confronted with an entity of apparent design, if we accept the possibility that it was formed by chance then we should not trust any message that it conveys. Thus, if we accept the idea that our senses were formed by chance then we should not trust them. Taylor admits that this has no theological import, so he seems to be challenging the opponents of design with the fact that, if there is no design then there is no science. Martin critiques this view by stating that: 1) there seems to be a possible equivocation on "meaning"; and 2) a reformulation ultimately would result in profound epistemological skepticism.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

So far, I think that this has been the best chapter by Dr. Martin. Besides the introductory criticisms of the analogical argument I agreed with most of his criticisms. In his critique of Tennant, his section titled "Non-inductive Conclusions" had many great insights. For instance, he noticed that the argument, if true, only brings us to admit to a cosmic architect rather than a creator. In the next section of that chapter he rightly points out that Tennant simply rejects the chance hypothesis even though he maintains the possibility. He also comes to what I think is the correct conclusion regarding judgments about a priori probabilities, namely that they are based on arbitrary values. In his critique of Schlesinger's argument, Martin justly appeals for a cumulative approach to the evidence, rather than allowing him to pick and choose his relevant information. Against Swinburne his examples using analogy were brilliant (Ford manufacturer; cabinet maker; music production). Against Taylor, I think his assessments were fair, but I think he missed a great point, namely that the example given to support Taylor's can be answered by showing the distinction between the data received by the arranged rocks and that received by the eye, namely that one is informative and that the other natural. Thus there is no reason to reject the senses if there is no design. Overall, I think that, besides a couple of instances of lacking charity, Martin's arguments against the proponents he invoked are sound. Thus in my critique, I will primarily focus on the first argument, that against the analogical Teleological Argument.


My main critiques have to do with Martin's introductory section. First, the claim that there is no distinction between the cosmological and teleological arguments seems to be absurd. The cosmological arguments argue for a timeless, immaterial, non-extended cause whereas the teleological argues for an intelligent, i.e. personal, cause. That is a pretty major, and non-arbitrary I might add, distinction. Nonetheless, this is a minor semantical point that I don't need to dwell on, but it does show me that Martin may have a tendency to be uncharitable with the views that he is trying to critique.

Regarding the section on Paley's Watchmaker argument I have a few criticisms. The first is over the use of rhetoric. When introducing the arguments of Paley and Hume, Dr. Martin structures his remark in such a way as to make it sound as if David Hume's argument was a response to William Paley's. Now, this is not problematic for the person familiar with the history of philosophy, but for the average reader they would just accept the claim implied idea that Hume refuted Paley. But this didn't happen! Hume made his argument first (1776). Paley's didn't come until (1802). Thus, it is most likely that Paley was at least aware of Hume's criticisms and that his argument was free from the criticisms. The second criticism I have is with the application of Hume's critique to the argument. First, the fact that it is called an argument from analogy prohibits it from being subject to the "extreme conclusions" criticism. It was never intended to be a univocity. Second, the argument as formulated was not one meant to demonstrate some quantitative relation between the design and the designer, but rather a qualitative one. The argument says that what has the appearance of contrivance was in fact contrived. To ask that such an argument give an exact description of the monotheistic God is asking it to accomplish a task it had no intentions of doing. Finally, Hume argued that imperfections in the design imply an imperfect designer. Why? What principle is there in perfection that requires one who is perfect to only make things perfect? Is this even possible anyway? If a perfect being could only create perfection then it could only create itself, which is absurd. There is no reason that the designer could not have freedom to design as he wishes, as long as the result is good (not morally but ontologically). Thus, Hume's criticisms applied to the argument fail and Paley's Watchmaker does not end in the historical trash heap of bad ideas based on it.

Finally, I would like to make a quick comment about Matson's comment about anthropological excavation. He argued that relics are not judged as the products of intelligence because they have purpose but because they have markings indicating that they were made by tools. I think this only pushes the problem back one step. Why do the markings show intelligence? Because there is order to them that could only have been left behind by something made by an intelligent agent, rather than by natural phenomena. So the criteria are the same. Something is judged design based on some complexity attributed to the object that defies nature. In the end, Matson's argument paves the way for the I.D. folks.

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