The Argument from Design
Responding to Objections, Part I

The Argument from Design has a long history in the Christian and Jewish traditions. It dates back to at least the days of King David (see, e.g., Psalm 19:1), but was put in its most commonly cited form by the great medieval thinker Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Argument from Design can be stated as follows:

"The universe as a whole is like a machine; machines have intelligent designers; like effects have like causes; therefore, the universe as a whole has an intelligent designer, which is God." From The Encyclopedia Britannica.
The argument has certainly had its share of detractors over time. The purpose of this essay is to look at a couple of common objections raised against the design argument by skeptics, and to attempt to offer some responses. To avoid setting up a straw man concerning the views held by skeptics, I will quote from the Agnosticism/Atheism page from as the basis for the common form of objections.

1. Who Created God?

"The first, most common, and most obvious objection to the whole family of design arguments is the fact that any god which would have been able to create the universe would itself have to be rather complex and certainly couldn't be 'accidental.' So, if the universe and the human body is too complex to be accidental, what about this god? Who or what created this god? The theist will normally respond by claiming this god is a 'necessary being' and doesn't need a 'creator.' Unfortunately, this is totally unsupported and totally unsupportable. There is no basis for such an arbitrary assertion, except to try to excuse their god from the same standards they wish to apply to the universe. However, any excuse made for this god can be equally work for the universe. Why can't the universe be 'necessary' or not need a 'creator?' No one can say - after all, we really don't know enough about our universe or universes in general to make such a judgment." From Agnosticism/Atheism, Argument from Design
This objection misses a very important distinction concerning the nature of the universe as opposed to the nature of God. The universe, as we know it, is constituted of a successive series of events occurring in time. The universe exists in time, and its structure is formed by events in time. Cause and effect are the hallmarks of this reality/universe. There is nothing known to exist in this universe which does not have a beginning, and each beginning has been caused by something else. This is seen in the big bang--a theoretical (but probable) explosion approximately 14.5 billion years ago that brought the universe into being.

God is quite different from that. Anyone with an elementary theological education knows that God exists outside of this universe. Atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen, in his book Philosophy and Religion, makes great capital of this distinction when discussing the Argument from Direct Religious Experience (his objection to which also fails, but that is for another essay). In his argument, he makes the following point about God:

"God is Pure Spirit, a being 'out of time,' transcendent to the world. * * * God is supposedly a mysterious infinite being 'beyond the world,' 'beyond space and time.'" Id., p. 45.
Nielsen is right to this extent: God is conceived of as a being who exists outside of this universe. He pre-exists the universe and therefore pre-exists time. Unlike the universe which is time dependent, God is posited as time independent.

If God is time independent, then unlike the universe, God does not need a creation event in time. The universe shows every sign of being created, but God is posited (and taught in the Judeo-Christian religions) as a being who was pre-existent and created.

Now, the author of the piece shows a lack of philosophical ability when he questions the difference between God and the universe as "necessary" beings. He asks "why can't the universe be 'necessary' or not need a 'creator?' No one can say - after all, we really don't know enough about our universe or universes in general to make such a judgment." Actually, we do.

Philosophy has long held a distinction between necessary and contingent beings, even though the exact nature of the distinction may change over time or depending upon the philosopher. However, generally speaking, a 'contingent' being is a being which has not in itself the complete reason for its existence. For example, the existence of any human being cannot be explained without reference to their parents, and, of course, food and air. A 'necessary being,' on the other hand, means a being that must and cannot not--exist. (Definitions obtained here.) Can the universe be the "complete reason" for its own existence? I suppose that it could if you are willing to agree that the universe came into existence out of nothing through natural processes. Of course, that would require the universe to pop into existence using natural processes when the natural processes (or at least the "nature" that allows the working of natural proceeses)don't exist because nothing exists. That seems a little odd.

But even if we were to posit that the universe could spring into existence out of nothing using only natural processes that operate on nothing to produce the universe, the universe would still not be a "necessary being." The universe does not have to exist. It is not "necessary."

God, however, assuming He exists, would not be a "contingent being." If He exists (and I assert that the evidence is clear and convincing that He does exist), then He would have in Himself the complete reason for His own existence. Nothing need create Him because He is the creator Himself. In fact, God is the only "necessary being" (but that is for another post). Thus, the universe cannot be a "necessary" being.

Part II will follow shortly.


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