Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rough sketch of a design argument

1. Some intelligent design is actual - this post, the computer it's written on, the monitor I'm looking at, etc. They are, in whole or in part, indisputably designed by a mind.

2. It's logically possible, however, for some things to be utterly undesigned - some events or structures are not foreseen, created or pre-ordained by any mind.

3. It's also logically possible that all things and events are ultimately designed, either in whole or in part.

4. I have indisputable evidence that design is responsible for at least some things or events, via 1.

5. I have absolutely no indisputable evidence for the utter/complete lack of design with regards to any object or events.

6. Logically, on these terms alone, if I make any inference in either direction, reason and experience favors 'design' as my default assumption.

This is a rough argument, and it is weak in terms of what it gets. Hume can be deployed easily to argue this doesn't get me to God, or at least not the God of any revealed religion. It doesn't get me to classical theism - or even monotheism.

Maybe there are multiple designers. Maybe the designers are all dead. Maybe they're mad, maybe they're evil, maybe they're stupid, maybe a lot of things. Maybe there are even no designers at all (at least not in the 'large scale' sense), and the inference is mistaken. This is not an argument most theists would feel comfortable deploying, because it kicks open the door way, way too wide. They'd want to immediately march on and do more work, or drop the argument altogether in favor of another one that demonstrates rather than infers, and demonstrates God rather than a designer.

I respect that. But I still subscribe to this argument, and I deploy versions of it in discussion, because - as near as I can tell - it's sensible, and it still demonstrates something important about the default state of our experience of the world.

7 comments:

Heuristics said...

I like the argument for it gets to the heart of the matter.

The opponents that it would be deployed against would be interested in man having no purpose, for that to be the case there would need to be no designers of any sort.

Craig said...

Step 5 is key.

But what would "indisputable evidence for ... lack of design" even look like? Isn't that more or less the equivalent of asking your interlocutor to prove a negative? While I don't hold to the common misconception that it's impossible to prove a negative, it's certainly difficult.

And it's not obviously wrong to say that lack of design should be the default assumption, just because design is a positive thing and saying it's present is a positive claim.

I myself am dubious about the idea that there are no events which aren't part of anyone's design, although this may just mean I lack a sufficiently robust appreciation of the doctrine of God's providence.

Crude said...

Craig,

But what would "indisputable evidence for ... lack of design" even look like?

That's a very good question, but the problem is - it's a question for the person who wants to advocate that the world is not designed.

I think this is where people get tripped up: they recognize that the atheist's position is extremely hard to get any evidence for whatsoever... but then this next step is taken which basically amounts to, 'Therefore you don't need to provide any evidence at all, or the bar is vastly lower.' But there's no justification for that. It's not as if we have to give incredibly difficult-to-evince claims some kind of handicap.

And it's not obviously wrong to say that lack of design should be the default assumption, just because design is a positive thing and saying it's present is a positive claim.

Well, I think it's obviously wrong given the argument provided. But I'll go a step further: if there's any proper 'default assumption' (and if we're saying 'default' as in 'before any evidence is looked at'), it would be "no assumption of the presence or lack of design, period". But once the evidence is looked at - it favors the design view, in the broad sense.

Craig said...

Crude,

I could construct a parallel argument for animism, the belief that all physical objects are alive, with souls and wills. Would this be an equally strong argument for animism as yours for design? If not, what's the distinction?

Syllabus said...

Eh, I dunno. You have to either distinguish design from not-design by qualitative or quantitative metrics. I don't see how it could be quantitative - what would the units of design be? How would you measure them, and so on? Qualitatively, I think it's still kind of problematic. OK, specified complexity (or whatever the term was) was the attempt by the ID crowd to try and distinguish that, but it's still - to my mind - somewhat pseudoscientific.

To my mind, the argument would be improved if, instead of arguing for design per se, you were to make the argument about teleology. IOW, we see some things which function towards an end. It's possible that stuff in the world has telos, it's possible it doesn't. And from there the argument looks pretty similar.

It doesn't get you a designer, but I think the more modest goal is better. You can either take teleology to be some intrinsic, brute fact of nature or else it is somehow programmed in. Well, which of these do we have experience of? Which, given our experience, is the more reasonable supposition?

Dan Gillson said...

Interesting. Another Humean criticism is that the analogy between the things that we know to be designed and the things that we can't prove aren't designed is very, very weak, thus lacking any probative value.

Crude said...

Dan,

Another Humean criticism is that the analogy between the things that we know to be designed and the things that we can't prove aren't designed is very, very weak

See, you and I continue to disagree about Hume. I don't think Hume ever mounted an argument against design, full stop. I think he answered one design argument with more design arguments.

Hume's contribution to the design argument wasn't to undercut design, but to undercut one conclusion - by providing a wide variety of other design possibilities. Insofar as he did that, he strengthened the design argument I'm talking about - he didn't fight it.

As for the claim itself - not only do I think the claim is weak, but I think it's literally worse than that. The claim of disanalogy between what we do in fact create, and what we are currently unable to create has grown weaker since Hume's time.

To say 'We create things like X, but we have yet to create things like Y and Z' is to appeal to technological limitations. But our technological capabilities have advanced from Hume's time. Hell, they've advanced from everyone's childhood.

Even someone who would agree that the disanalogy is great (and I don't think that claim is obviously true) would be forced into an uncomfortable position with the reply you're making: they would have to concede that as technology advances, their position weakens.

Now find me the person willing to be against the advance of technology.