DOES EVOLUTION RENDER
THE DESIGN ARGUMENT USELESS?


This article is a first-year University of Adelaide philosophy essay from 1977.
It got a grading of 80%, "Distinction" standard, with the lecturer's comment, "Imaginative and in full grasp of the issues."
The author's name is withheld.
 
 
( Investigator 118, 2008 January)



The young man stood at my door, bag of books in one hand, Bible in the other.

"Many people doubt God's existence," he began. "They believe in the theory of evolution instead. Yet the evidence for God's existence is overwhelming, and I'm here to share that with you today."

I warned him I study philosophy but he said he used to also. So we began, Brenton "B" and myself "A".
 

B    The Bible hints at the argument from design – the Teleological Argument – so I'll use variations of that.

Throughout the Universe there is order – the largest galaxies and smallest atoms all move according to precise laws. The revolutions of the earth and planets round the sun proceed so precisely that their positions can be calculated millions of years ahead. The wheels in your watch also move precisely and with order, and therefore we know that your watch was designed by an intelligent designer. Likewise the planets and stars which move more precisely than the wheels in any watch!

A    What one person calls "orderly" another might not. Astronomers know that whole galaxies are colliding. Surely that's not order!

And as regards precise planetary orbits, that's due to gravity and motion interacting. Design doesn't come into it! Star systems evolve through natural processes. They might in some instances have an appearance of order but that's only because the laws of gravity and motion cause the different parts to adapt to each other.

The same is true of living organisms on earth. Their interaction with the environment has resulted in many adaptations that have an appearance of design. Nor is your comparison with a watch valid, for the Universe does not resemble a watch or any man-made object!

B    You're hinting at the theory of evolution. So let's consider the complicated variety of conditions necessary for life on earth.

Oxygen, carbon, water, nitrogen are all present and recycled to the extent that is best to maintain life. Heat and light also reach the earth in correct quantities, yet with harmful radiation screened out. Consider also that each living cell has thousands of complex chemical reactions occurring in it every second. Inanimate matter, without a designer, does not shape itself into such complex patterns and relationships.

A    The presence of oxygen and sunlight and so on are just brute facts that prove nothing. Living cells are complex, yes, but this does not demonstrate a designer, but rather that matter under right circumstances forms very complex relationships!

B    Everything that has a function – whether a watch, radio, shoelace, anything – has been designed by a designer. Evolutionists at one stage counted over 200 vestigial organs in the human species. These, supposedly, were relics of evolution and supposedly had no function. But later research showed that every one of those organs does have a purpose and function. In fact, it can be argued that in all the earth's 10 million species of life every organ has a function and hence was designed.

A    Neo-Darwinists explain this through favourable mutations and natural selection. During the struggle for survival favourable mutations lead to more-perfect adaptation and hence to more-complicated life forms.

B    You are appealing to a theory that is far from proven. In the USA are 3,000 scientists who believe in creation rather than evolution. The Creation Research Society alone has 600 scientists including geologists, micro-biologists and palaeontologists. Since 1963 they've publicised unproven assumptions in the fossil dating methods, unproven assumptions behind Uniformitarianism, undemonstrated claims for favourable mutations, and 50 millions missing links in the fossil record.

Evolution might turn out as just another of those great myths that sometimes sweep mankind. So let's not reject the argument from design on the basis of what might be a myth!

A    But those 3,000 scientists are barely one per cent of all scientists! What if Evolution is eventually proved, do you think your design argument would be valid then?

B    One could still argue that evolution would be impossible without scientific laws in physics and chemistry which remain consistent for long ages of time and in accordance with which life and mutations can begin and progress. This regularity in nature for long periods indicates intelligence behind it all, just as the regularity in a piece of music or a story indicates intelligence and design.

A    I could still claim that all such observations are merely brute facts without cause. Or if there is a cause then that cause is unknown – it's a "something-I-know-not-what".

B    That "something" is God!

A    Then prove it, don't assume it! Your argument does not, even if valid, demonstrate that only one god created – perhaps thousands of gods helped out.

Nor have you demonstrated that your Christian God is what is claimed for him – omnipotent, perfectly good, omniscient, eternal, loving and just. Nor can we say that the Universe is perfect since there is no other universe to compare it with. Perhaps the present Universe is merely God's latest effort after many bungled attempts. Unless your design argument can meet these objections you will have to discard it.

B    You seem to be using David Hume's objections and yet those objections are irrelevant since I'm not using the design argument to demonstrate that God is good or just or whatever. For example, my eyes and ears tell me that you exist, but from this evidence of my eyes I cannot tell what your moral character is like. One piece of evidence or one observation or one argument often proves only one point and should not be rejected because it does not prove everything!

The Design argument merely demonstrates that one or more gods originally created the Universe. To find out what this God (or gods) is like we need additional evidence and arguments.

A    Nor have you shown that your God is in any way infinite. We therefore need only attribute that degree of power to him that the size of the Universe warrants.

B    Correct! Since we humans are limited we can define no set of conditions which if witnessed by our limited senses would demonstrate the existence of an infinite God. But as science continues to reveal an ever larger and more complex Universe we humans can acquire an ever-expanding appreciation of God's greatness and power.

A    But your "proof" has not even shown the existence of a limited God! Your entire position stands or falls with your notion of order and disorder. If, for example, you observe a plum growing on a peach tree would you say to yourself, "Aha, the Universe is disorderly after all?"

B    No, there would be an explanation – grafting or genetics.

A    And if a planet is found which repels objects rather than attracts them according to gravitational laws, would that be disorder?

B    No. There would be laws of physics to explain it, just as two south poles of two magnets repelling each other is explainable.

A    Then I put it to you that order exists only by definition and not in reality. It exists because nothing is allowed to count as disorder. Your main premise is an assumption.

B    Every observation is in principle explainable and was in principle predictable because there are permanent and consistent laws of nature. This we have already discussed and these facts demonstrate design and order.

Until now you have only attacked my arguments, and without success. You have made no case of your own, a case based on propositions which are more plausible than not. The Bible says, "The heavens declare the glory of God." Since you do not believe in what is self-evident, the onus of proof is on you!

A    One can never prove that something does not exist. See that letter box over there? Well there's a fairy dancing on it right now.

B    I don't hear or see her.

A    She's dancing silently. And you can't see her because she's intangible. In fact, I can answer every argument you use against her existence just as you can answer every argument I might use against the existence of God.
So the burden of proof is not as you say on me, but rather it's on you!

B    O.K. I'll use one final illustration to show that your non-belief in God is really inconsistent with your belief in evolution.

Suppose the wind blows an ink-bottle off your table and smashes it. Ink spills all over the floor. By chance some of the ink-drops form words, a short seemingly intelligible message or piece of information. Let's say it says, "John has a Masters Degree." Would you believe this message?

A    I would have no reason to.

B    Or an earthquake rolls stones down a hill and they form words giving intelligible information. Would you under such circumstances believe what you read?

A    Probably not.

B    It would be irrational to believe the message itself, while also believing that the information in the message came about by non-intelligent chance. Correct?

A    Correct!

B    The reason is that those rocks or that ink are giving us information that has nothing to do with those rocks or that ink. There is just no connection between the properties of rocks and the message. Correct?

A    Correct!

B    Yet you say that your senses, your nervous system, your brain, your mind evolved – they have in effect come about by chance. And you use these evolved faculties to acquire information about things other than themselves. Yet you just now agreed that such a procedure is irrational.

Hence it would only be rational to believe the information that comes from your senses and mind if you first assume that your senses and mind were created and made orderly in such a way as to give reliable information about things other than themselves!

From this argument it follows that you will either have to reject evolution or believe in God! And you can't do one without the other!

A    I need do neither since, as you just pointed out, my mind can't give me reliable information about such things!

B    You're a hard man to convince!

<>A    Why not join me at University and study philosophy again?
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<>And so our doorstep discussion ended somewhat inconclusively. On the basis of the evidence actually discussed, evolution does not render the design argument useless since the design argument can incorporate evolutionary ideas. The other objections also do not entirely destroy the design argument but do severely limit the abilities and qualities of the kind of God that can be inferred from it.

We did not prove or disprove evolution; we did not prove that there is no God; but neither did we demonstrate the existence of the Christian God – omnipotent, all-loving, omniscient, etc. Such qualities would have to be demonstrated through other evidence and arguments. Perhaps one day Brenton will call again and tell me what that evidence is!


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