Atheism and the goodness of God 6

Argument from Design [Teleological Argument]:

We’ve been discussing chapter 1 of God is Good God is Great where William Lane Craig discusses various arguments for the existence of God and Richard Dawkins’s response to them. We looked earlier at the moral, cosmological and ontological arguments. Another is the argument from design, or the teleological argument.

Here, Lane suggests that Dawkins is at his weakest {while ironically Dawkins seems to think himself at his strongest}.

The issue isn’t so much the god-of-the-gaps argument of the Intelligent Design movement [ID] that there are some things that are so irreducibly complex (like the eye) that they must have had a designer. Rather, the nub of the teleological argument is whether there is evidence for ‘design’ in the remarkable ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe that allows intelligent life to exist at all. Fine-tuning refers to the discoveries by scientists over the last 50 years or so of the matrix of incredibly complex and inter-related factors that ALL have to fit perfectly together in order to allow life to exist on earth.

For example, while Newton’s law of gravity would still work if the gravitational constant G had a different value, our world would not. A little bit stronger and everything would collapse, a little bit weaker and everything would drift apart.

If the amount of balance between matter and anti-matter in the universe was to be altered by a fraction, the life permitting balance of the universe would be destroyed.

Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything has a great discussion of the sheer unbelievable, incredible unlikeliness of life being able to exist on earth.This post will get too long if I get into now, I’ll come back to it another day.

You don’t have to be a Christian or a theist to acknowledge that the universe has incredible fine-tuning. Astronomers talk of the Anthropic Principle (Gk anthropos – man). A better name would be something like the zōe principle (Gk – life). But whatever the name, the universe seems set up for life to exist.

So, back to the teleological argument which goes like this:

1)      The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance or design

2)      It is not due to physical necessity or chance

The idea that fine-tuning is due to physical necessity, Craig argues, is ‘extraordinarily implausible’ given the way the constants and quantities necessary for fine-tuning seem independent of the laws of nature.

So does chance lie behind fine-tuning? If it is not due to physical necessity, a non-theist will have to argue for chance and this is what Dawkins does. The problem is, Craig contends, that the odds are ‘so incomprehensively great they cannot be reasonably faced’. So at this point Dawkins resorts to postulating infinite number of randomly ordered universes – and ours is one chance example of where life can exist. Apart from the massive speculation here, such a view, even if true, would not ‘solve’ the problem. The infinitesimal chance of life existing in this universe would remain the same. In an extended discussion Craig is devastating on Dawkins’ logic here.

This leads to the third alternative:

3)      Therefore, it is due to design

Dawkins’ objection to design forms the ‘central argument’ of The God Delusion. He contends that although fine-tuning is not explained, such ‘relatively weak’ hypotheses that exist are ‘self-evidently better that the self-defeating …. hypothesis of an intelligent designer.’

His supposedly crushing question here is that if God is the designer – who designed God? But Craig points out that to say that the best explanation needs an explanation is not grounds to deny the explanation! Elementary philosophy says this. Otherwise nothing can ever be explained and there would be an infinite regress of explanations which would destroy our basis for knowing anything.

Dawkins also suggests that the ‘designer’ would ‘have to be’ just as complex as the thing to be explained (the universe).  Dawkins’s reasoning here has been roundly rebutted by top philosophers but this criticism seems to have little effect on his remarkably self-satisfied attitude that he has the killer arguments.

A final aside here: I watched a video recording of a lecture Dawkins gave at UC Berkeley 8 March 2008 to a large audience. During the talk he shows pictures of about 20 books responding to The God Delusion. The powerpoint then dissolved them in a puff of dust. Dawkins explained the imagery: all these authors were like ‘fleas’ feeding off his writings, the puff of dust was flea powder. In other words, his critics are parasites feeding off the superior host and should be dismissively eradicated as insignificant pests. The hubris of this illustration is truly astounding.

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