Home > atheism, philosophy, religion > An Atheist’s Perspective: Being Part II of an In-Depth Look at the Argument from Design

An Atheist’s Perspective: Being Part II of an In-Depth Look at the Argument from Design

[Continuing from Last Week]

Cicero, uses the Orrery because it is [with exception given to the antikythera mechanism] the most complicated device that the civilized world, i.e. the Romans, would have produced. One might be tempted to say that other artifacts were just as complicated in their construction, such as the ballista, the aqueducts, etc.; but familiarity with those artifacts would have dulled the impression that it would have made on the average on-looker. A knowledgeable person could explain how the aqueducts worked and the average person would understand it. There’s no real mystery to water flowing downhill, the ingenuity revolves around the construction of a device to bring in water a long distance but the principle is quite simple. The same with torsion powered siege engines: the principle is simple while the application is what makes the genius. The Orrery is genius both in application and principle. One must understand how the sun, moon, and the planets revolve in order to produce a device to measure their orbits and more importantly predict them. This aspect of measurement is what makes an important foci for Balbus, Cicero’s Stoic mouthpiece in “On the Nature of the Gods” and the person making this argument from design.

A thing which measures, he asks, cannot be greater than that which it measures. Can a ruler measuring the distance of one meter be greater than “the meter”? …We’ll get to the obvious problem of that in a second. Balbus asks the pertinent question of whether or not something which is an imitation of the cosmos can be greater than the cosmos. If we apply this to Paley’s watch, we would be asking if one could claim that the found pocket watch was greater than that which it measured, i.e. time.

Does Cicero’s position regarding mockery make sense? First off, (here is where we return to the ruler and distance issue) when we are talking about the term “greater” we are not merely mentioning it in terms of size or magnitude. We are referring to complication and ingenuity in construction; e.g. the rational thinking that went into the construction of the artifact, thus when we ask whether a ruler can be greater than the meter which it measures we are not talking about length but complication. The ruler cannot be greater than a meter, because making a ruler is simple, whereas making a distance is not. This is the principle of reducibility that which measures must make things less complicated, not more complicated.

Further we must also understand the Roman/Hellenic mindset which put anything under the domain of reason as being superior to that which was the product of chance. If the Orrery sphere is the product of a rational mind then it is, by virtue of this alone, greater than that which is the product of chance. If, as the Epicurean atomists would claim, that the universe is the product of chance it would follow that a mockery of the universe—the sphere which measures it, is greater than the universe. Since this seems absurd, it must be that the universe is also the product of a rational mind. This is like saying that the rock must also be a product of a designing intelligence because the Earth cannot be less than a watch.

As earlier stated, the entire argument rests on this idea of “greater than.” Cicero, through his Stoic mouthpiece, claims that the Orrery cannot be greater than the Cosmos. This is the crux of his claim and it bears one more repetition: that which is produced by random chance cannot be greater than that which is produced by design. It’s absurd, it doesn’t seem right, and intuitively we would want to say that it’s wrong. The trouble with intuitions though, is that they are unproven. We might later find some confirmation of an intuition but by their very nature an intuition isn’t proof it’s a feeling. Even the Epicurean voice in the discussion, Vellus, for whom all is the product of the chance collision of atoms through the void isn’t bothered by the Stoic’s claim. Yet this point, being so important ought to have been challenged. The matter of a star is the product of natural forces on scattered atoms and I wouldn’t want to claim that the coliseum is greater than a star simply because an intelligent mind chose the marble. Why would Cicero merely skip over proving this assertion?

We must first off, understand that this is an old prejudice of the Hellenic Age. Reason was first and foremost, it was this ability to reason which separated us from the animals: the greater the faculty of reason the better the thing. Anything which scoffed at reason, or the rational mind, was scoffing at the pinnacle of man’s capacities. For the representatives of the Epicurean and Academic schools to remain silent as the Stoic makes this claim is understandable in context. They are, in a way competing in a rationality contest. Attempting, not only to understand the nature of the gods but also to display which of the schools have the superior claim on the truth. To do so will be to argue rationally, and for someone to make the claim that what is rational is not necessarily the best will undercut any claim to victory in this contest. In this however they are caught in their own web and Cicero would probably regard it as quibbling to discourse on how we know that the products of rationality are greater than those of chance. However we must keep in mind that no matter what this is an opinion that is given without evidence or proof backing it up.

Next Week: Accomplishment.

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