Religious Knowledge Systems: How far might ‘the design argument’ constitute evidence for the existence of God?

In TOK Religious Knowledge Systems are one of eight areas of knowledge. Whilst there is no proof for the existence of non-existence of God, there can be better and worse arguments. How far might the design argument for the existence of God count as evidence for the existence of God? If it is, would you consider the evidence to be strong or weak? If it is not, on what grounds is the counter-argument more compelling?

The eighteenth century theologian William Paley (1743-1805) compared the universe to a watch, arguing that both look like they might have been created by an intelligent designer. Consider how the comparison does work on some level; both the universe and the watch might share some features e.g. order, purpose, things working, the idea of design. Think of examples that might support the idea of intelligent design: the interdependence of eco-systems, the human body, snowflakes, the mathematical structure behind nature. (Perhaps ask your maths or biology teacher). Also consider what strengths you think the argument has; in what ways might science and nature reveal the intelligent design of God?

The modern argument from design comes from physics. The idea is that the laws of physics are so finely tuned that they may indicate the existence of a designer, God. For example, the speed of light, the charge carried by electrons and the force of gravity look like they might have made the emergence of life inevitable. If so this could point to a God with a purpose. Indeed, if the force of gravity was slightly stronger everything might be crushed, or if it were slightly weaker things might be falling apart. The observation that the laws of physics are so specific that they have enabled life to emerge might suggest the possibility of God. For more on this look up the ‘anthropic principle’ in physics.

The philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) identified the weaknesses of the design argument. He said that the comparison between the universe and the watch is unsound as there is little that they have in common. Furthermore there are aspects of nature that look like poor design. Today you might consider natural disasters as an example.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) further criticized the design argument. In his book On the Origins of Species he argued that there is a natural scientific explanation for so-called design in nature. The long, slow process of evolution by natural selection means that species have evolved to fit in with their environment. For example the human eye or an eco-system is the result of random changes over a long period of time. So there is no need to explain these as God’s designs:

“Darwin’s theory of evolution demonstrated decisively that complex organization efficiently adapted to the environment could arise as a result of random mutations and natural selection. No designer is needed to produce an eye or a wing.” (Paul Davies 1946-)

Richard Dawkins (1941-) supports Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. In his book The Blind Watchmaker (1986) he says that the blind watchmaker is natural selection; so there is no God designing the universe. In his latest book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution he explicitly addresses the evidence for evolution in response to the fact that 40% of Americans dispute the theory of evolution. For more see, his website and the short video clip for his latest book.

One final thought; what’s been proposed here may be a false dilemma. Do you think that the concept of God and the theory of evolution might fit together and be compatible? Is it coherent to think of God as designing in and through the process of evolution? Why would Dawkins’ rule out this possibility and how might others reply to him? Now it’s up to you to make up your own mind on this…

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