18th and 19th Centuries: New Form and New Challenges
A. New Form
In the 18th century philosopher
William Paley reformulated the argument from design by attending to specific
instances of design. He took the eye as
a case in point and the "ways in which the various parts of the eye
cooperate in a complex way to produce sight." To explain this adaptation of means to ends, he claimed; we need
to postulate an intelligent designer.
(Much as we would if we found a watch while "crossing a
heath;" rather than assume it had come together by chance we would assume
an intelligent designer put it together).
For the record I just want to
note the title of Paley's book Natural
Theology: Or, Evidences of the
Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of
Nature. Those were more confident
B. New Challenges
David Hume in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion attacked
Paley's position for privileging the model of human design of artifacts. This he claimed skews the argument. Why not
use another model, for instance the model of biological generation, which does
not require intentional design? One
could as easily say the universe is like an organism therefore there must be a
Paley's argument is an analogy,
it is not a proof. Of course much of our working knowledge depends on analogies
- thought constructions rather than direct access to reality - things
in themselves. The question is whether
a chosen analogy is a good one, bearing a useful resemblance to reality - always
a contestable point.
Paley had his defenders who
preferred his analogy to Hume's. They
observed that in biological generation creatures reproduce themselves rather
than producing new and various things.
When we query why a rabbit has organs that are so well adapted to meet
its needs we are not helped by the answer that this is because it springs from
other rabbits that were similarly adapted.
It only pushes the question further back.
Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Practical Reason also put
forward objections to the argument from design. He thought that science and
religion should be completely separated and natural theology was for him a
contradiction in terms (Emerton 1989 p. 145).
Nevertheless he said of himself, "Two things fill my mind with
wonder and awe...the starry sky above and the moral law within" (Kant,
Critique of Practical Reason 1788, Conclusion). Still it was the latter - the moral law within - and not the former
that he took to be the clearer pointer to God and God's goodness. He
constructed his own ethical argument for the existence of God. Something must account for the "moral
law within". There must be a
highest good, a coincidence of virtue and happiness. God must exist as the guarantee of the triumph of the good, for
we do not see it in this life.
With the publication of Charles
Darwin's Origin of Species in
1859 the argument from design met a truly formidable challenge to its
credibility. In the theory of evolution
there came to the fore a genuine alternative explanation for apparent design in
organisms. One was not left with mere
chance on the one hand or intelligent design on the other. Organic structures come to be what they are
by development from simpler forms through purely natural processes of mutation
and natural selection over an extended period of time. No intelligent designer is needed to design
the eye for sight.
Contributed by: Dr. Anna Case-Winters