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Revised Notes on Paley's Design Argument

The Design Argument, Part I: The Classical (“Old School”) Design Argument

1. Preliminaries:
1.1 Our current topic: the design argument for the existence of a god
1.2 Defining ‘design’:
1.2.1 What do we mean when we say that something is designed? We mean, roughly, that a person of some kind intentionally made or altered something for a purpose.
1.2.2 A word that is often associated with the notion of design is ‘teleology’ and its derivatives, such as ‘teleological’.
1.2.3Etymology: telos: end, purpose
1.2.4 ‘Teleological’: exhibiting or relating to design or purpose, especially in nature
1.2.5 Thus, the design argument is often called the teleological argument
1.3 The design argument has often been called the most rationally compelling and intuitive argument for the existence of God.
1.3 It attempts to provide strong reason for believing that the universe, or at least parts of it, is the product of an exceedingly intelligent being, viz., God.
1.4 The basic idea:
1.4.1 Many of the features of the world have the appearance that an intelligent agent – i.e., a person – made it.
1.4.2 Other explanations for this appearance, e.g., that it looks that way by chance, seem implausible compared to the hypothesis that it was designed by an intelligent agent. For these features of the world are too complex and orderly to make it probable that they got that way through chance or other natural processes. By contrast, we know by experience that intelligent beings are able to create these features
1.4.3 So, probably, it really was designed. And if so then, probably, an intelligent designer of the world exists.
1.4.4 But such a being is what we refer to as ‘God’.
1.5 The most widely-known defender of the design argument: William Paley (1743-1805). His most famous exposition of the design argument is found in his book, Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature.
1.6 He compared the universe to a watch:
1.6.1 Just as a watch has features from which one justifiably concludes that it was designed, so, too, does the universe and its parts.
1.6.2 Therefore, it is probable that just as the former was designed by an intelligent being, so too was the universe.

2. Setting Up the Argument
2.1 When and why do we infer that something has been designed?
2.1.1 If, walking through a field, you came upon an object, and were immediately convinced that a person made it, what is it about that thing that would lead you to think that a person had made it? Complexity: having parts This might be necessary for a thing to be recognized as designed, but it isn’t sufficient by itself E.g. rocks, piles of sand, etc. are complex, and yet no one says “design!” when looking at them So there must be something else, in addition to complexity, that leads us to infer design Functionality: the parts work together to perform a function (If the parts weren’t fit together in just the right way, then it wouldn’t carry out the function) Examples: plastic cups (with plastic lids and straws), mousetraps, tables, chairs, houses, bicycles, cars, computers, etc. Let’s call the combination of these two features – complexity and functionality – design indicators
2.2 How do we come to learn that complexity and functionality indicate design – i.e., that they are the design indicators?
2.2.1 It doesn’t seem that it’s an innate idea, i.e., we’re not born knowing this
2.2.2 It doesn’t seem to self-evident that they are the design indicators, either. Compare: “All bachelors are unmarried males”, “and “nothing can be red all over and green all over at the same time”, vs. “all complex and functional things are designed”. The first two are self-evident; the last one is not.
2.2.3 So it must be that we learn that those are the design indicators by experience. Step 1: we observe a constant conjunction of one type of cause (intelligence) producing one type of effect (complex, functional things). This justifies the belief that there is a causal connection between intelligence and complex, functional things. Step 2: after our observations justify this causal connection, we no longer have to observe the cause of a thing to know that it was intelligently designed; rather, we just observe the effect (the complex, functional thing) and then infer the cause (intelligence).

3. Paley’s Design Argument
3.1 Most of the things that we observe to have design indicators are human artifacts: i.e., human-made objects
3.2 However, many things in the natural world have these same design indicators!
3.3 But if so, then, probably, these things were designed as well! For example:
3.3.1 the human eye (Paley’s favorite example)
3.3.2 the wing of a bird
3.3.3 the human circulatory system
3.3.4 whole organisms
3.3.5 whole ecosystems
3.3.6 In general: living organisms and their parts
3.4 But of course, these things weren’t designed by humans
3.5 And to say they were designed by, say, aliens, only pushes the issue back a step: aliens are complex and functional, and so they, too, would require a designer
3.6 So we need some designer that escapes this regress
3.7 That would require an intelligent being that’s not part of the biological realm
3.8 This being we all call ‘God’.
3.9 Standardizing the argument
3.9.1 Human artifacts are intelligently designed.
3.9.2 Living organisms and their parts resemble human artifacts (in that they both have several parts that work together to perform a function).
3.9.3 Therefore, probably, living organisms and their parts are intelligently designed as well.

4. Four main criticisms
4.1 The “Weak Analogy” objection: the analogy between human artifacts and biological organisms (and their parts) is too weak to confidently infer that the latter were intelligently designed
4.2 The “Design Mimickers” objection: it seems as though other, non-intelligent causes can mimic the effects of designers (i.e., complex, functional things)
4.2.1 We see in nature that there are also many non-intelligent causes of complex, functional things (e.g., spiders produce spider webs by instinct; tiny seeds contain an internal principle of order that lead to various kinds of vegetation (e.g., plants, trees, vegetables), etc.).
4.2.2 Neo-Darwinian evolution can produce the complex, functional structures seen in living things
4.3 The “Who Designed the Designer?” objection:
4.3.1 Either all complex, functional things require an intelligent designer, or some don’t
4.3.2 If all entities that have parts that work together to perform a function require an intelligent designer, then since the mind of the hypothetical designer of the natural world seems to bear these traits, then it, too, would need a designer.
4.3.3 On the other hand, if some entities with these features don’t require an intelligent designer (e.g., God), then why can’t we say that same thing about living organisms, or at least the universe?
4.3.4 Therefore, either God needs an intelligent designer, or we have no good reason to think that living organisms – or at least the universe – needs an intelligent designer
4.3.5 The basic point here is that *both* key hypotheses -- theism and naturalism -- have brute functional complexity (i.e., functional complexity that has no prior cause), and so it's special pleading to say that one sort of complexity requires an explanation while the other does not.
4.4 The “Even if it Worked” Objection: Even if the argument works, it doesn’t prove that the designer is the god of theism. I.e., it wouldn’t prove that:
4.4.1 the designer is all-knowing
4.4.2 the designer is all-powerful
4.4.3 the designer is perfectly good
4.4.4 the designer is an immaterial spirit
4.4.5 the designer is eternal
4.4.6 the designer is omnipresent (present everywhere)
4.4.7 the designer is also the creator
4.4.8 there is just one designer
4.4.9 the designer still exists


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