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Murphy, Nancey. “Evidence of Design in the Fine-Tuning of the Universe."

The purpose of Nancey Murphy’s paper is to assess the possibility for using the ‘fine- tuning’ of the laws of nature in constructing a new design argument. Her paper is closely linked with George Ellis’ of the same volume (George F.R. Ellis, “The Theology of the Anthropic Principle,” 363-400), but with an important difference: she treats the thesis advanced by Ellis as an argument for the existence of God. Murphy first shows how recent developments in philosophy overcome the traditional Humean objections to design arguments. Carl Hempel’s theory that science employs hypothetico-deductive reasoning undercut Hume’s assumption that knowledge proceeds by induction. Holist accounts of the structure and justification of knowledge, offered by both W. V. O. Quine and Imre Lakatos, show that a hypothesis is never tested on its own, but rather in conjunction with a network of beliefs into which it fits. Lakatos provides a detailed theory about the structure of this network (or “research program”), in which a core theory is surrounded by a belt of auxiliary hypotheses which, in turn, are both supported and challenged by the data. Lakatos’s structure includes theories of instrumentation for relating the data to the auxiliary hypotheses and a positive heuristic for the expansion of the auxiliary hypotheses into new domains of data.

To avoid circularity and relativism, Lakatos provides external criteria for choosing among competing research programs. A progressive program is one in which an additional auxiliary hypothesis must both account for anomalies, predict “novel facts,” and occasionally see them corroborated. Moreover, such new hypotheses must fit coherently into the existing program. “. . . The only reasonable way to assess the claim that fine-tuning provides evidence for divine creation is to consider the design hypothesis not as a claim standing alone . . . but rather as an integral part of . . . a theological research program” which can then be assumed as progressive or not. But what should constitute the “data” for theology? Murphy recognizes that this is a central issue for her proposal. Her sources typically include both Scripture (incorporated through an appropriate doctrine of revelation; i.e., a “theory of instrumentation”) and experience. Murphy suggests that the church’s practice of communal discernment could minimize the subjectivity of religious experience.

Murphy then reconstructs Ellis’ paper in terms of the Lakatosian structure. Her aim is to show that theology can be regarded as a science, that cosmological fine-tuning can serve as an auxiliary hypothesis in a theological research program, and that theological theories can be compared directly with scientific theories.

In what way is the Temple-Ellis program confirmed? According to Lakatosian standards, it must produce novel facts, and Murphy claims that it does. Ellis added an auxiliary hypothesis to Temple’s theology: in order for there to be the free will required by Temple, God’s plan for the world had to include that the world be law-governed as well as fine-tuned. The facts supporting the law-like character of the world were irrelevant to Temple’s theology, but in the Temple-Ellis program these facts now take on theoretical meaning. The key here is that Ellis did not set out to explain the facts supporting the law-like character of nature but only the presence of free will in nature. Thus, Murphy concludes, these facts are “weakly novel” since they were already known but irrelevant to Temple’s theology before Ellis modified it. Finally Murphy suggests ways in which the Temple-Ellis program might be expanded to include the theological problems of theodicy, moral evil and natural evil, and the scientific discussion of thermodynamics, the arrow of time, and perhaps even consciousness. These could make the program even more progressive.

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