THE DESIGN ARGUMENT

Imagine that you found something of unknown origin that looks like this:

 

Moon monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

You would think that it was created by someone rather than by a natural process. Why? Because as a large rectangular solid with perfect 90 degree angles, it displays qualities not found anywhere else in nature. We have zero experience of natural objects like this, and lots of experience with objects like this created by intentional agents.

 

Oh, that was just the aliens' zero-zero domino.

 

You might then wonder what kind of agents produced it. Since your only information is the object itself, the best you could do was look at its qualities. In the case of the moon monolith, it generates a strong magnetic field, and sends a radio signal when exposed to sunlight (discharging the magnetic field). It's basically a long-lasting battery designed to attract a technological civilization and notify other devices when it has done so. So you would infer that this was probably created by someone who had advanced technology, was very clever, and had some purpose, nefarious or otherwise, for knowing when humans achieved a certain level of technological ability. We make these kinds of inferences all the time with things we know are made by humans: we infer what the designer is like by the nature of the object they make. 

 

Annoying plastic packaging

Sometimes our inference is of a very personal nature.

     

The design argument contends that the universe itself looks like something that is designed. It is intricate, regular, beautiful. It allows for the existence of conscious life. Since the universe exhibits design, we should infer that it is designed. We then can infer the qualities of the designer. The universe is large, the laws of nature are incredible, it's great that there are humans. It seems reasonable to suppose that the designer is extremely powerful, extremely wise, and cares deeply about conscious beings. And the being who comes closest to that description is God. Therefore, probably, God exists. 

 

The Design Argument

 

The universe exhibits design.

Things that exhibit design almost always have a designer.

Therefore, the universe has a designer (probably).

The qualities of designers can be seen in what they design.

The universe is awesome.

Therefore, the universe was designed by someone awesome (probably).

Therefore, the universe was designed by God (probably). 

 

Three things about the design argument:

 

(1) It is not a proof. It claims only that the apparent design of the universe is evidence for the existence of God, just as the monolith from 2001 is evidence for the existence of aliens.

 

(2) It connects to our sense of awe of the universe. If you have ever had the experience of standing under a truly dark, starry sky, you may have felt reverence for the grandeur of the universe. The design argument builds on this emotion. 

 

Milky Way Galaxy

Whoever made this lit

  

(3) In its original form, it relied on biological design. Creatures are extremely well-suited for their habitat and behaviors. After Darwin, we understand how this could have happened without positing a designer. Prior to Darwin, it must have been hard even to think of another explanation, and thus the design argument would have been compelling to many.

 

Given our greater exposure to light pollution and the theory of evolution, we are probably going to find the simple design argument less initially persuasive than those who heard it from Aquinas, Al-Ghazali, Socrates, the Stoics, or 18th century English clergymen. But whatever its initial persuasiveness, the design argument has faced one of the most formidable assaults in the history of philosophy...

 

David Hume
Next: Hume on the Design Argument
Hubble Ultra Deep Field
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