Design Arguments for the Existence of God
Roger Peck FAITH Magazine May-June 2004
This article will briefly compare three different design arguments for the existence of God, or an intelligent creator; the probability argument, Paley’s argument by analogy and Richard Taylor's argument by example.
The first of these, the probability argument is perhaps not strictly speaking a design argument but it is at the very least a close relation. What the argument by probability does is to reflect on the “fine-tunedness” of a universe in which life can exist, reflects on the chance of life occurring through purely random events, and concludes that the chance of life coming into existence through purely random forces of nature is so infinitesimally small as to be almost non-existent. There must, therefore, be a guiding hand behind it all.
Proponents of the probability argument observe structures that occur in living organisms and consider whether such structures could reasonably be constructed by random interactions. The information content of life-supporting enzymes and amino acids is calculated and the number of possible combinations (the information) that could have occurred randomly during the life of the universe is estimated, and these two calculations are weighed in the balance.
The subject of the probability argument is not the evolution of species, but the genesis of life. This is significant because although it may be possible to envisage how attributes beneficial for survival are “selected for” in the context of the evolution of species, it is not at all clear how such a “selection” process can work when it comes to forming the building blocks of life. Perhaps a disadvantage of the probability argument is that, unless one is a high-powered scientist, the arguments for and against can take on an aspect of the anecdotal: scientist A says X and scientist B says Y. One way in which the uninitiated can, however, remove themselves from the sidelines and enter fully into the debate is to critique the arguments of scientists in the atheist camp.
Answering Richard Dawkins
The scientist who we shall consider is Richard Dawkins. In his book The Blind Watchmaker Dawkins concedes the incredible complexity of molecules that inhere in living organisms.
To illustrate the distinction Dawkins wheels out the ubiquitous analogy of the monkeys on the typewriters producing a work of Shakespeare.
Using a single step model Dawkins calculates that the chance of our simian friends producing even just one line of Hamlet “METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL” is about 1 in 10,000 million million million million million million. He then considers the case for cumulative selection by writing a computer program to simulate the process.
Now this may seem at first glance as an impressive demonstration of how the odds can be defeated, but what Dawkins fails even to mention is the mechanism whereby nature can select between different generations of the haemoglobin family tree. Timothy R Stout in a web article exposes this oversight.
It is the complexity of molecules like haemoglobin that lead proponents of the argument by probability to conclude that the chance of life occurring by accident is so infinitesimally small that it can quite reasonably be discounted altogether. Defenders of evolution, therefore, either need to identify an error in the calculations, or else they need to explain how it is that these odds can be beaten without recourse to God. The vast discrepancy between the complexity of molecules that exists in living organisms and the level of complexity attainable from random interactions is what impelled Sir Fredrick Holye to cling to his steady-state model of the universe, and to posit his notion of panspermia, both of which buy more time for the process. Unfortunately for Hoyle the ever-increasingevidence for a big-bang made his steady-state model less and less tenable, and his idea of germs traveling between the stars cannot in the final analysis buy enough time to balance the life equation.
The Anthropic Principle and Parallel Universes
The argument by probability is more science than philosophy. It argues directly from observable data. Such a direct argument has certain attendant strengths and weaknesses. In avoiding the need to argue by analogy it may be more palatable to dyed-in-the-wool empirical scientists. Its weakness, however, is that it does not deal in the currency of certainty but deals rather in the currency of probability. One thing that such an argument by probability must do is that it must engage in a genuine and honest dialogue with its archenemy, the Anthropic Cosmological Principle. 
The Anthropic Cosmological Principle essentially states that there is little point in being amazed at the fine-tunedness of a universe in which carbon based life can exist, when it is a carbon-based life form doing the gawking! Doing so would be like looking at a winning lottery ticket in your hand as evidence for God’s creation, whilst forgetting about the millions of losing lottery tickets discarded in bins all over the country. One way in which the Anthropic Cosmological Principle finds employment is in the proposition that this universe is simply one of many universes; in fact, infinitely many. Even if the chance of life occurring in the universe through random forces of nature is infinitesimally small, if there are an infinite numberof universes then life is bound to occur in one of them.
It is this sort of argument that proponents of the argument by probability have to dialogue with, and must do so honestly. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle is not something to be dismissed out of hand or swept under the carpet. It must be invited fully into the conversation.
Paley and Analogical Watches
If you are walking along a beach and you happen upon a pebble in the sand it is quite reasonable to assume that the pebble was formed and placed there by natural random insensate forces of nature. If, however, you spot a watch lying next to it you are likely to bend down, pick it up and examine it. The object you hold in your hand is clearly designed. The intricacy of the movement, the ordered lines on the face and the relationships between the different parts that go to make up the watch as a whole impels one to believe that the watch was designed. 
William Paley’s design argument is an argument by analogy. You might say that, writing before the digital age, Paley’s was an analogue watch! Argument by analogy moves from the known to the unknown using a “just as…. so too” formula. Just as the intricacy and complexity of the watch leads us to believe that it was designed by a watchmaker, so too the same kind of attributes we perceive of the universe impels us to believe that the universe was brought into being by a creator.
The key statement implicit in Paley’s argument is; “is the universe more like a pebble or is it more like a watch?” Paley’s design argument is a metaphysical argument. Metaphysics is that branch of philosophy that seeks to answer the “big questions”, questions regarding the nature of being, truth and knowledge. Richard Taylor in his book Metaphysics quotes William James in describing metaphysics as “nothing but an unusually obstinate effort to think clearly.”
Perhaps one’s gut reaction on hearing arguments like William Paley’s is to dismiss them out of hand with an attitude of “what have watches and pebbles on the beach got to do with anything?” But to dismiss Paley’s design argument in this way is to dismiss the efficacy of argument by analogy per se.
But we use the language of analogy all the time.
(ii) That person is faithful
(iii) God is faithful.
An Argument from Analogy
Most people would agree that the phrase “the dog is faithful” has meaning. Although we don’t really know what it means for a dog to be faithful - we don’t have a dogs-eye-view of the situation - people would generally agree that to say that the phrase “the dog is faithful” has no meaning would be a step too far. Imagine the dog waiting devotedly by the front door for its master’s return; or spending days by the side of its fallen master on a Welsh hillside.
The word “faithful” here is the language of analogy and the meaning of the word “faithful” in the above three statements is not univocal (identical), neither is it equivocal (misleading); rather it occupies a kind of middle ground between the two - it is analogical.
A dog is faithful insofar as a dog has the capacity for faithfulness, human beings are faithful according to the capacity of human beings, and God is faithful according to the (infinite) capacity of God to be faithful (hesed - steadfast love (e.g. Gen 22:23)). One can use the familiar “just as… so too…” formula in saying that “just as a human is faithful (according to his capacity), so too a dog is faithful…”.
The Weakness of Analogy
Just as the intricacy of the watch impels us to believe that it was made by a watchmaker, so too the intricacy, symbiosis and order we perceive in the universe impels us to posit the existence of a creator.
The weak point of Paley’s argument – the Achilles heel of any argument by analogy – is that opponents of the argument always have the recourse of simply declaring that the analogy is not close enough to be of any real value. They could argue, for example, that the universe is more like a pebble than a watch. 
Imagine you are traveling in a train and you look out of the window and see on a hillside a collection of rocks which together clearly form the words “Welcome to Wales”. Now you are perfectly at liberty to believe that those stones were arranged on the hill by random forces of nature: weathering, rock falls, soil erosion etc. but if you do so you cannot, at the same time, believe that you are entering Wales. This is the central point of Taylor’s argument.
If, driving along a mountain road, you came across rocks strewn across your path, blocking the way, you would probably twig that the nearby area was prone to rock falls. You would make an inference based on your knowledge and past experience of gravity, soil erosion, the fact that last time you drove along the same stretch of road there was no rocks in the way etc. Whether or not such an inference was correct, it could hardly be described as irrational. With the “Welcome to Wales” message on the other hand, the message being communicated by the stones is not inferred from the composition of the stones themselves, or from one’s knowledge of soil erosion, weathering, local climatic conditions etc.
This is Taylor’s argument, pure and simple. A line could, and probably should, be drawn under the above because there really is nothing more to be said. One might be tempted to reflect on the survival benefit eyes give to their owners, but all such speculations would be beside the point. The question of whether we can infer, from speculations regarding the evolutionary origins of our eyes, that our eyes tell us things that have nothing to do with themselves is irrelevant. All that is relevant for Taylor is the question of whether or not our seeing something is based on such an inference. As Taylor puts it:
It would also be beside the point to suggest that we make an inference based on past experience. Consider, for example, that the welcoming message on the hillside was written in Welsh, with me a non-Welsh speaker. Even if, on seeing the familiar pattern of stones, I were able to infer from past experiences of similar patterns of stones on other hillsides that I was about to enter Wales; such a belief would still be inconsistent with a belief that non-purposeful forces arranged the stones.
The above two points fit together with a watertight seal. Even supposing that we manage to forge some link between Natural Selection and the abilities of our senses (and we have to use a fudge word like “link” here because it is difficult to talk of Natural Selection as the cause of anything) it cannot be said that our knowledge of the world is inferred from such speculations. The dubious best that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution can hope to do is describe how our eyes evolved and why we believe them. Such a theory might explain how there is a message and why we believe it, but what it can’t do, which happens to be the one thing that would meet Taylor’s challenge, is that it can’t help read the message. My knowledge of the mechanisms involved in natural selection cannot help me decipher the“incoming”. It can’t help me interpret the electrical impulses travelling down my optic nerve to form a mental image of a tree.
Taylor’s challenge remains. It is irrational to say one’s cognitive faculties had a natural, non-purposeful origin while at the same time believing them to reveal some truth with respect to something other than themselves, something that is not merely inferred from them. Speculating on the survival benefits of having good sense organs is beside the point because Taylor’s argument is an argument about beliefs.
What is significant for Taylor, then, is not that the eye is a complex organ (à la Paley's watch), or that we don't walk into trees (à la Darwin’s theory of evolution). What is significant for Taylor is our belief that our eyes are trustworthy instruments for communicating what is true and what is real. This is why Taylor's argument can properly be described as a transcendental argument - an argument about beliefs. More specifically it is an argument about consistency of beliefs. It is inconsistent to believe that our cognitive faculties are trustworthy agents for communicating what is true while at the same time believing them to be the product of non-purposeful forces of nature.
The transcendental nature of the argument is significant because although not walking into trees may be a useful survival technique, the meaning we extract from our sense data - the very intelligibility of the universe - impels us to acknowledge the existence of an intelligent creator. God is the necessary context from which meaning flows. A (non-theistic) defender of Darwin may conceivably respond here that believing our eyes is just as important for survival as the accuracy of our eyes. There would hardly be any point in having eyes that accurately transmit information if we don't heed the information. There is, however, an obvious flaw here. Darwin's theory of evolution essentially forges a link between genes (or mutated genes) and survival. But what possible connection can there bebetween a belief (such as a belief that our eyes are trustworthy instruments) and our genetic makeup? It would appear that the theory of evolution requires, at the very least, some patching up. This may be why Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene, dedicates a whole chapter to a strange little beastie called the meme:
It is difficult to know what to make of Dawkins' memes. If I read Dawkins correctly then I have been lucky enough to have been infected by a belief that my eyes are trustworthy, and if I hadn't contracted this infection I would have been less likely to survive, and hence less likely to pass on the infection to others. But this idea does not meet the challenge of Taylor’s Welsh stones. The dubious best that Dawkins’ meme theory can hope to achieve is to explain how it is that we have a particular belief – a belief that our eyes are trustworthy agents. But Taylor’s argument doesn’t actually support or contradict the existence of this belief. If truth be told Taylor’s argument takes the existence of this belief as a given. What Taylor’s argument does is highlight the inconsistency involvedin holding this belief while at the same time believing that our eyes are the product of non-purposeful forces of nature and, what is more, Dawkins’ meme theory has nothing to say on the matter. Consistency is not something that can be caught or passed on.
Here, though, we have stumbled on the Achilles heel of Taylor’s argument, and the only counter-argument that has any real substance. Although the Welsh stones argument highlights the inconsistency of simultaneously holding a belief A (my eyes are trustworthy instruments that communicate what is true and what is real) and a belief B (evolution alone), it does not actually prove that belief A is real. The weakness, if you like, of the transcendental argument is that it is transcendental. 
Design arguments compared
This article has reviewed three different design arguments for the existence of God and it has tried to do so critically and fairly, giving both the strengths and the weaknesses of each. There has been a natural progression from the empirical (the observable complexity of life), through the analogical (watches on the beach) to the transcendental (consistency of beliefs). As we look back on this survey a meta-argument presents itself.
It could be said with some justification that the main criticism of the probability argument is that it is probabilistic, the main criticism of the argument by analogy is that it is analogical and the main criticism of the transcendental argument is that it is transcendental.
It is as if we are being presented with a stark choice. Either we accept the inevitable implications of the design arguments - a designer - or we reject the very fabric of rational discourse.
Either we accept the conclusions of our own reasoning or we reject our ability to reason.
Either we accept the available evidence or else we embrace a radical and cynical scepticism.
To deny God at the cost of our very reason would be a pyrrhic victory indeed.
Edward Holloway in the introduction to the third volume of his Perspectives in Philosophy considers any acceptance of an evolutionary process without recourse to “Mind” to be a “vacuity of human intelligence.” In many respects it has been the task of this article to expose this vacuity and with this aim in mind we shall conclude by considering the following conversation:
Metaphysicist: As Taylor's example of the Welsh stones clearly shows; investing one’s human cognitive faculties with the ability to convey truth whilst at the same time believing fundamentally that they are the mere product of insensate forces of nature is a mistake.
Evolutionist: But our eyes convey reality because if they didn't the organism they belonged to wouldn't have survived long enough to pass on its genes.
Now the strength - the force - of the evolutionist’s position in the above exchange is that it is true! Organisms that through a random genetic mutation were able to sense the world around them better were more likely to survive and so more likely to pass on their mutated genes (you know the story). As far as Taylor is concerned, however, the weakness of the evolutionist's position is not that it is false, but that it singularly fails to answer the question posed by the Welsh stones. The implication of Taylor’s argument is not (necessarily) that the theory of evolution is wrong, but that “there must be more to it than that”. Taylor’s argument is not contra the theory of evolution; it is contra the suggestion that evolution alone can provide the answer.
Creation Compatible with Evolution
Faced with the implications of the Welsh stones, therefore, it is not enough simply to re-present Darwin. One can quite easily posit models of God's interaction with the world that both uphold the truth of evolution and explain how it is that we can attribute a purpose to things in the world. One such model might be described as a "Game Designer God" - a God who invents the rules of evolution and then happily sits back and watches the wheels turn. Such a model would explain how it is that we find the universe intelligible. The universe is intelligible precisely because it is created/designed by an intelligent being. As an important aside here it should be pointed out that such a model of God's interaction with the world is not meant to be a theological "how it is" model. A God who sitsback and watches the wheels turn is of course the God of the Deism heresy. No, the Game designer God model is not being used here to convey a theological truth - it is simply being cited as a counter-example to the theory that creation is incompatible with evolution. As any mathematician will tell you, you only need one counter-example to disprove a general result.
This then is the reason why simply re-presenting Darwin is not enough. The theory of evolution is not at issue. The point being made is not that the theory of evolution is wrong, but that it is impotent when it comes to explaining the intelligibility of the universe and the purpose of things. Evolutionists would do well to heed Wittgenstein's dictum that what can be said at all can be said clearly and, whereof one cannot speak one should remain silent.
A gaping hole lies at the heart of the theory of evolution and simply giving this hole a name is not a solution to the problem. Calling the hole a blind watchmaker as Dawkins does, or describing the end products of evolution as non-teleologically produced teleology is no explanation. All such devices are mere smoke and mirrors; attempts to paper over the yawning chasm. We need to build a wisdom tradition of apologetics to illuminate this gaping hole because the force of the evolutionist's argument remains and I hereby ask the advice of every wise person (Tob 4:18); how can we best expose the inadequacy of the evolutionist's stance?
A Black Hole in Science and a Plea for Wisdom
The evolutionist's response in the above dialogue has the feel of a category error, akin to asking the question "is red round or square?" The reason for this perception may be that the evolutionist's position is founded on a deficient metaphysics, materialism. Materialism is missing the meta-category of mind. It is perhaps precisely because the mistake being made by our model evolutionist is buried deep within his underlying metaphysics that the force of his position remains and we need, therefore, imagination and insight to challenge it.
By way of getting the ball rolling, this article will finish with a final observation. Of the two most common phrases used to describe the theory of evolution: natural selection and survival of the fittest, one is an oxymoron and the other is a tautology. Natural selection is an oxymoron because natural implies non-conscious whilst selection implies an act of the will - natural selection is a contradiction in terms. As for the survival of the fittest - well who are the fittest? You could say that the fittest are those best suited to the environment but this just begs the question; who are those best suited to the environment?The answer to this, of course, is that those best suited tothe environment are those who survive. Survival of the fittest is a tautology - survival of those who survive. Hints and indications, perhaps, of that gaping hole.
Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London: Penguin Books, 1988), 45.
Ibid., 48. A number which, according to Dawkins, Isaac Asimov calls the haemoglobin number, such is its significance in the debate.
Ibid., 45. Dawkins uses the word “sieve” here as a generic term for mechanisms in nature that impose order. He cites as an example of such the fact that planets have an uncanny knack of travelling at the exact speed required for stable orbits. Dawkins observes that; “all the planets that we see orbiting the sun must be travelling at exactly the right speed to keep them in their orbits, or we wouldn’t see them there because they wouldn’t be there!” Ibid., 44.
Ibid., 48. It is interesting here to reflect on the fact that underpinning this simulation of evolution there is a mind – the intellect of the computer programmer.
Timothy R. Stout, Rebuttal of Richard Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker (www.innercite.com/~tstout/cs/pog\_4.shtml).
We are talking here specifically about the Weak Anthropic Cosmological Principle.
Robert Wright, “Science God and Man” , Time 4th January 1993.
W. Paley, Natural Theology (Oxford: Ed J. Vincent, 1828). Paley in his argument walks across a heath rather than a beach.
David Hume would have it that “The world plainly resembles more an animal or a vegetable than it does a watch or knitting-loom.” Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, bk VII.
Richard Taylor, Metaphysics (New Jersey: 1992) 1.
This illustration is from John H.Hick, Philosophy of Religion (Prentice Hall: 1990).
A response to this might be to home in on the function of a watch. A watch tells the time. It marks the passing of the hours, days and years, which in turn marks the passage of the earth around the sun. A watch and the universe both alike tell the time. Not so a pebble on the beach.
Taylor, Metaphysics 111.
When those self same faculties are our sole means of corroboration.
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (London: OUP, 1988), is an enjoyable read insofar as it provides a refreshing perspective on an old theory. It provides an interesting genes-eye-view of evolution. The mistake Dawkins makes in the book, however, is that he carries this idea beyond the realm of perspective and presents the selfish gene as the fundamental reality. This is scientific reductionism. The fundamental reality of evolution, God aside, is not genes, but cats and dogs.
As an interesting aside, it is the transcendental nature of his argument that justifies Taylor’s claim that the argument is not an argument by analogy (Metaphysics, 115). It was described earlier in this article how the language of analogy allows a particular quality to be attributed to different entities. Just as humans are faithful according to their human capacity, so too dogs are faithful according to their canine capacity. Just as the design of a watch points to a human watchmaker, so too the intricacy and complexity of the universe points to the existence of a divine watchmaker. With Taylor’s argument, however, the language of analogy may be dispensed with precisely because the objects under scrutiny are all of them the same,beliefs. The belief that one is entering Wales, the belief that the stones were arranged by natural processes of weathering and erosion, the belief that one’s eyes are the product of insensate forces of nature and the belief that one’s eyes are trustworthy agents for communicating what is true and what is real are all the same, beliefs; albeit different beliefs. This uniformity is what makes Taylor’s argument an argument by example rather than an argument by analogy. There is no “according to” and there is no equivalent to Paley’s implied question “is the universe more like a pebble or is it more like a watch?”
Edward Holloway, Perspectives in Philosophy (Wallington: Faith Keyway, 1988),Vol 3, 5-6.
The word "evolutionist" is here (and throughout this article) used as shorthand for a proponent of the theory of evolution who does not believe in the existence of a creator. One of the central points being made in this article is that to believe in a creator does not necessarily imply that you disagree with the theory of evolution.
The final comment of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus reads “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”
An oxymoron being a conjunction of opposites - e.g. divorce court.
Those most adept at playing the “survival game”, or, as someone once humorously put it, those who are good at the “four Fs”; fighting, feeding, fleeing and reproducing.