The Teleological Argument for God’s Existence
The teleological argument, that is, the argument from design to the existence of God, has been made by theists for many thousands of years. It used to be that the universe and everything within it was a clear sign that something bigger and more powerful than ourselves had created and designed it and us. The pagans identified the gods with aspects of nature, while the Jewish monotheists recognized one supreme and immaterial being as Lord of all creation. Today, though, it has been argued that we are enlightened, so we no longer need such petty superstitions. It has been argued by naturalists that all of nature is purposeless: from nothing and for nothing. This anti-design case has persuaded many, but I will argue that we should go back to our heritage and make a new case for design by applying the modern scientific method to the ancient Jewish concept of God and the most recent data we have about our universe.
What is the Argument from Design?
The argument from design is the argument that something could only be in its current form if an intelligent agent caused it to be so. In this paper, I will be arguing that the only explanation for our existence is the universe and its laws being fine-tuned for the existence of life like ourselves. The fine-tuning of the universe means, according to philosophers William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, “The actual values assumed by the constants and quantities in question (that is, the physical laws and contents of the universe) are such that small deviations from those values would render the universe life-prohibiting.”1 Because the range allowable for life is so small and life like ourselves couldn’t exist outside of it, we infer that our universe is within that range so that we might exist.
What are some examples of these constants and quantities? Based on the parameters needed for an earth-like planet, astronomer Hugh Ross calculated a less than 1 in 10^144 chance of such a planet appearing in the universe.2 For comparison, the estimated number of stars in the universe is roughly 10^22, while the number of atoms in the universe is roughly 10^80.3
The constants and quantities of the universe must be fine tuned to incredible degrees to permit life. For example, the strength of gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and the rate of acceleration of the expansion of the universe must all be finely tuned or the universe could not permit any kind of life. Philosopher John Leslie has commented on some of these, noting that an increase as small as 1% in the nuclear strong force would cause most of the carbon in our universe to disappear.4 He also notes that proton decay is how most matter formed from the Big Bang, yet the excess was a mere one proton for every hundred million protons destroyed by an anti-matter pair. If more protons were created, the mass would have caused the universe to collapse back in upon itself, while fewer protons would cause no stars to form.5 Craig notes that the rate of expansion (cosmological constant) is fine-tuned to “at least one part in 10^53.”6 These numbers are big enough that they may be difficult to comprehend. It is enough to say that it is mathematically impossible that a single universe, governed by the same laws as our own, could have come upon these values by chance.
Not only do the constants of the laws of the universe need to be finely tuned, they must exist in their current form in the first place. Philosopher Robin Collins notes five of these laws, and shows that if even one failed to exist, complex embodied life would be impossible.7 Gravity is well known to all; it binds together objects in proportion to their mass. The greater the mass, the stronger the attraction. Collins notes that if gravity did not exist (but the other laws of nature did), “There would be no stars, since the force of gravity is what holds the matter in stars together,…there probably would be no planets, since there would be nothing to bring material particles together,…and even if there were planets…any beings of significant size could not move around without floating off the planet with no way of returning.”8
Livability to Observability
Above we have discussed a few of the basic necessities for the universe to be livable. Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and Philosopher Jay W. Richards have formulated a fine-tuning argument based on the correlation between livable conditions and observable conditions in their book The Privileged Planet. They make many arguments throughout the course of the book, but one interesting argument is based upon the atmosphere’s transparency allowing us to observe the heavens and perform science. They note, “Our atmosphere participates in one of the most extraordinary coincidences known to science: an eerie harmony among the range of wavelengths of light emitted by the Sun, transmitted by Earth’s atmosphere, converted by plants into chemical energy, and detected by the human eye.”9 And so, we see a strange correlation between livable conditions and conditions conducive to science through observation.
Chance, Necessity, or Design
Most will attribute three possible options for the finely tuned constants and quantities of nature we see around us: chance, necessity, or design. If due to chance, then we are simply incredibly lucky. If due to necessity, the universe had no choice but to be the way it is. If due to design, an intelligence wanted a universe with complex moral beings and created it to allow for such beings.
The Weak Anthropic Principle
As we have seen above, the odds that our universe could be the product of chance is so astronomically small that it is hardly worth discussing. Yet, the weak anthropic principle would tell us that since we exist, we should not be surprised that we live in a universe that can support life. Does this close the case? Philosopher Douglas Groothuis doesn’t believe so, noting that this objection confuses a truism, that “the necessary conditions must obtain, otherwise humans could not observe the human-life-permitting world”10 with the actual statement the fine-tuning proponent is making, that “the necessary conditions for this human-life-permitting world themselves need to be explained.”11 As Gonzalez and Richards note, when a detective finds a murder weapon, we are not satisfied that he solved the case. We would not be satisfied with his explanation upon finding the murder weapon in the victim’s apartment that there is nothing left to explain. This does not tell us who used the weapon or why the murder occurred.12 Similarly, we are still justified in asking for an explanation for fine-tuning. As Craig notes, this has led many skeptics to the multiverse hypothesis, which would give such a naturalistic explanation alongside the weak anthropic principle.13
What if we raised the odds? What if there are an infinite number of universes with an infinite number of possible physics? Skeptic physicist Victor Stenger claims that, “[Scientists’] current models strongly suggest that ours is not the only universe, but part of a multiverse containing an unlimited number of individual universes extending an unlimited distance in all directions and for an unlimited time in the past and future.”14 This multiverse hypothesis is fraught with problems. Craig and Moreland argue that the principle of Ockham’s Razor means we ought to prefer the “simpler” design hypothesis.15 Craig additionally argues that on a multiverse hypothesis, it is vastly more likely that we should be observing a small universe and be disembodied observers (Boltzmann brains) who fluctuate into and then out of existence than that we should be observing a universe such as our own.16
Collins rebuts the multiverse by arguing that whatever mechanism within the multiverse generates the universes must be finely-tuned.17 That is, this generator must not be something that generates unicorns, it must, in fact, generate universes. It must generate varied universes, not just the same universe over and over. Finally, it must generate universes with the right kinds of laws and then vary the constants and quantities within those laws.
Groothuis argues that an actual infinite in the real world is impossible, therefore, there cannot be an infinite number of universes. The theoretical multiverse’s ability to explain fine-tuning breaks down because without an infinite number of tries, the multiverse is less likely to generate a life-permitting universe. He concludes that the multiverse theory is “flagrantly ad-hoc, lacks experimental evidence and is extremely complex.”18
Dr. Jeffrey A. Zweerink, an astrophysicist, questions whether the multiverse, should it exist, undercuts our whole concept of identity, justice, and free will, and argues, like Groothuis, that the multiverse generator could not create a truly infinite number of worlds, as this would be philosophically absurd.19 Together, these arguments present a strong rebuttal to the speculative multiverse hypothesis, and we may discard it in our search for the reason behind our finely-tuned universe.
Other Forms of Life?
If the constants and quantities that make up our universe make life like ours possible, what about other forms of life? Collins points out, however, that the teleological argument does not presuppose that our exact form of life is necessary. Even if non-carbon-based life is possible, and it likely is not, many of the finely-tuned parameters preclude any form of embodied life.20
Skeptics discarding chance and focusing on necessity will claim that the universe simply must be the way that it is. In other words, the universe and its physical laws, quantities, and constants simply are because they are. This, it is sometimes claimed, is certainly no less plausible than a God who created the universe and is because he is. Proponents of this stance must usually argue that the universe is an eternal brute fact, while others claim the universe created itself from nothing. Cosmologist and physicist Lawrence Krauss, for example, claims, “Nothing is unstable. Nothing can create something all the time due to the laws of quantum mechanics…empty space is a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles that pop in and out of existence.”21 But this is nonsense, first, because anything that is unstable is not nothing (Krauss seems to be talking about a vacuum, which is certainly something), and second, because there’s a big difference between a virtual particle and a universe.
Victor Stenger has raised a similar objection, claiming that not only are the fundamental laws “human inventions,” but that the quantities we assume are fine tuned are “due to established physics and cosmology.”22 For example, Stenger argues that the ratio of electrons and protons is exactly equal “on the reasonable assumption that the total electric charge of the universe is zero – as it should be if the universe came from “nothing” and charge is conserved.”23 He argues that this balancing (and others)24 need no further explanation because they are balanced. However, Collins argues that symmetry cannot explain all the non-symmetrical phenomena of the universe we see around us.25 If the skeptic retreats to randomly broken symmetry (for anything non-random would need to be attributed to an intelligent agent) to describe the actual phenomena of the universe, the skeptic loses the finely-tuned parameters gained by the appeal to symmetry.26 Craig further argues that even if this appeal worked (and he does not believe the models have enough evidence in their favor), it still doesn’t explain the initial conditions of the universe, such as the universe’s initial low entropy, which seem to be arbitrary quantities.27 In other words, even with the laws of physics as they are, there’s any number of possible universes with those laws due to differing initial conditions. Those conditions seem to need to be finely tuned for life like ours to exist, and that fine tuning is entirely immune to Stenger’s objections.
What about design as an explanation? Could an intelligent being have created the universe precisely to allow for our kind of embodied beings capable of moral choices? And would that explain the existence of the laws, constants, and quantities our universe displays better than the alternatives? We need some way to evaluate design as an option.
In some ways, it seems obvious that when we have a desired result, that is, life like ours, and astronomically small odds to attain that result, then some sort of purpose (i.e. design) must have been at play. To form this intuition into an actual rigorous theory, mathematician and philosopher William Dembski formulated a theory of design which he terms “Specified Complexity.”28 This theory requires three parameters to pass thresholds before inferring design in a situation is warranted.
Contingency is simply the opposite of what we discussed above, necessity. If something is not necessary, if it could be a different way, then it is contingent.29 The universe would seem to successfully pass this test.
Complexity is the opposite of probability. Complexity is highest when the odds of it occurring randomly are low. But a complex (i.e. improbable) situation is not enough to infer design. The odds of any individual jackpot lottery number coming up are quite low, yet some number has to come up, no matter how low the odds.30 As we have seen, the odds of the fine-tuning coming about by “accident” are astronomical. It therefore passes the test of complexity.
Specification is the last required piece to infer design. A pattern must be placed upon the complex situation, but not just any pattern, “For a pattern to count as a specification, the important thing is not when it was identified but whether in a certain well-defined sense it is independent of the event it describes.”31 If one and only one person purchases a jackpot lottery ticket, and the lottery happens to come up with her number, we are justified in inferring that the lottery was designed to do so, because the complexity was so high (it was so improbable that the one person who played would win), and there was a target, her lottery ticket, independent of the event, the lottery balls. The independent pattern we are looking for is that we exist. Embodied moral agents arising out of the complexity of the constants and quantities of the universe gives us the final piece of the specified complexity puzzle. We are, therefore, justified in detecting design in the universe.
God of the Gaps
Skeptics have argued that this is an instance of “God of the Gaps” reasoning. They claim that those inferring design do so simply because we don’t yet know how it could have happened without design. The religious often attribute this design to God, leading skeptics to argue that this is simply religious wishful thinking, and like pagans of the past who attributed lightning to gods, today’s religious believer is attributing to God what will one day be known to be a natural phenomenon.
Collins responds to the skeptics’ argument noting that “God of the Gaps” cannot apply to the structure of the universe itself, for even if “deeper” laws explained our current laws, those would have to be fine-tuned as well.32 Furthermore, we may note that we have laid out three possible options, and design has qualitatively emerged victorious over simple chance or necessity. Last, we have done so without reference to religious scripture, or God. This is an argument to God, not an argument from God, as the “God of the Gaps” objection would imply.
A purely naturalistic cause for the fine-tuning we detect within the universe must rely on one of two possible options: chance or necessity. However, if intelligent agency is allowable as an explanation, a third option presents itself: design. When evaluating the case for each of the three options, only one appears to be truly viable, that of design. Chance fails due to the odds being far too long, while necessity fails due to the scientific evidence that our universe is time-limited and could plausibly be different than it is. Design, however, succeeds, due to the mix of contingency, complexity, and specification we see in the universe.
William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 2nd ed. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017), 493-494. Parenthesis mine. ↩
Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3rd ed., (Glendora, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2001), 198. ↩
John Carl Villanueva, “How Many Atoms Are There In The Universe?” Universe Today, December 24, 2015, accessed December 15, 2017, https://www.universetoday.com/36302/atoms-in-the-universe/. ↩
John Leslie, “The Prerequisites of Life in our Universe,” Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide, (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 119. ↩
Ibid., 122. ↩
William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Foundations, 496. ↩
Robin Collins, “The Teleological Argument: An Exploration of the Fine-Tuning of the Universe,” The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, eds. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, (West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2012), 211. ↩
Ibid., 212. ↩
Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery, (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2004), 66. ↩
Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 255. ↩
Gonzalez and Richards, Privileged Planet, 267. ↩
William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed., (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 166. ↩
Victor J. Stenger, “The Universe Shows No Evidence for Design,” Debating Christian Theism, eds. J.P. Moreland, Chad Meister, and Khaldoun A. Sweis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 48. ↩
Craig and Moreland, Foundations, 497. ↩
Craig, Reasonable Faith, 169. ↩
Collins, The Teleological Argument, 263. ↩
Groothuis, Apologetics, 260-261. ↩
Jeff Zweerink, Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse?, (Pasadena, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2008), 42-45. ↩
Collins, The Teleological Argument, 276. ↩
Lawrence Krauss, interview by Ira Flatow, NPR Talk of the Nation, January 13, 2012, accessed September 13, 2015, http://www.npr.org/2012/01/13/145175263/lawrence-krauss-on-a-universe-from-nothing. ↩
Stenger, The Universe Shows No Evidence for Design, 50. ↩
Ibid., 50. ↩
Ibid., 50-53. ↩
Robin Collins, “The Fine Tuning Evidence is Convincing,” Debating Christian Theism, eds. J.P. Moreland, Chad Meister, and Khaldoun A. Sweis, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 37-38. ↩
Ibid., 38. ↩
Craig, Reasonable Faith, 163-164. ↩
William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 17. ↩
Ibid., 128-130. ↩
Ibid., 130-313. ↩
Ibid., 133. Emphasis original. ↩
Collins, The Teleological Argument, 224-225. ↩