Home > atheism, philosophy, religion > An Atheist’s Perspective: Being the Final Look at the Argument from Design

An Atheist’s Perspective: Being the Final Look at the Argument from Design

Over the last several weeks we have been looking at what is one of the most persistent and enduring of the proofs of the existence of some kind of deity. I have examined every aspect of it minus any linguistic variations due to translation. Frankly, I’m not equipped to make those kinds of criticisms. I have explained that at no point can we really consider this argument to be a successful one.

While that is an extreme position, it’s the correct one or else we wouldn’t be having this kind of conversation. The question believers might want to ask then is, “if the argument fails how come it has lasted so long?” Which is a fair question, although it’s not the rhetorical one they think it is. First off, just because something is long lasting does not speak to its truthfulness only that it serves some kind of wide appeal. That appeal is probably based on the repetition of the argument over time, and when an argument is older than even Christianity it’s been repeated many times. Part of that repetition is going to be the fault of the writer’s skill. In this there can be no doubt when its origin is out of the pen of Marcus Tullius Cicero. Cicero was such a brilliant philosopher that even Augustus Caesar admired him though he banned his writings and considered him an enemy of his family.

Secondly is that it is an argument which on first glance seems to work. As long as the person making it isn’t subject to a variety of questions regarding the issues we have taken up over the last seven weeks it will work. As I have said a few weeks ago, it’s a giant appeal to common sense. Paley’s version of the argument doesn’t survive without the common sense appeal and in fact is largely a self-congratulatory back slap for anyone accepting the argument. Yet this kind of appeal is nothing more than an informal fallacy of thinking. The improbability of accidents forming watches is one thing, but the impossibility of it doing so is entirely another. We also have to consider the unaddressed aspect of this common sense appeal–that of time. See we look at the watch, the armillary sphere, etc. and we think that in the time that it would take to make such a think it would be nearly impossible for that thing to exist to be generated out of accident. But there is a difference: that is that the universe, the rock, etc. which is used analogically was not constructed in a day, week, month; it took the entirety of time up until the point of making the argument for those things to appear the way that they are. On a long enough time line, nearly anything is possible.

What I would like to know is whether or not the argument works as a conversion argument. This question I think is important only pragmatically. Is it effective in turning an atheist into a theist? Not an atheist like myself, but one that has never heard the argument before. I’m too poisoned to be entirely objective but if I had to make a guess I would say no. I would make this claim of just about any of the classical proofs of the existence of a deity, for the same reason that I would never believe there is a tiger in the trunk of my car without evidence of that tiger, but this one seems to be particularly flawed for conversion. I think the most that a person would get would be that of a shrug of the shoulders and, “sure it’s possible.”

Even if it did work, let’s make that assumption, what have we converted to? The atheist who now admits that the design proves a designer is not a theist. No, the argument can only get a person to the Deist stage at best. The problem with the deist stage, for the theist, is that it lives in this middle ground between atheism and theism. The deist believes that there is some creative force but that’s about it. There is no involvement of the creative force in the governance of the world. At best the deist god could be considered a person but that would be a fiction created whole cloth by the person making the assumption looking for some kind of anthropomorphic relationship between them and the creative force. Further, there is nothing preventing the person from accepting the argument to fall into something like Spinoza’s pantheism or, even scientific atheism stating that the creative force is merely something like the big bang. The consequences of presenting the argument are such that it may make the non-believer into even more of a non-believer.

For the hopeful Christian who found Paley’s argument compelling the leap that is made in thinking that the non-believer will not only begin believing but will also become one of the followers of Jesus is a false hope. There is nothing in the core of the argument by which we could direct a person into believing that the designer god is the Christian god itself (or the Muslim god, Jewish, Hindu, etc.). The argument only seems to work as a buttress against those who would deny it. Cicero even seems to say as much in the dialogue, claiming that gods must exist and then moving on to the proof of it. We can only really prove what we already know is the implication. I feel that any true non-theist is going to remain unconvinced and that this argument is only a rhetorical trick.

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