The Cosmological Argument: The Cosmological Argument for the existence of God is the argument based on the existence of the world. The most basic form argues that God must exist because (1) the world (the Cosmos) exists, and (2) everything that exists has a cause. (3) The world must therefore have a cause, (4) only God could serve as the cause, and so (5) God must exist.
Now a skeptic might easily question whether the cause of the world need be intelligent, good, and so forth, so that it serves the religious function of a God, insuring that there is a justification for the evils in the world—but as a matter of fact the argument has enough problems simply showing that there is a cause of the world in the first place so that we need not fuss with this.
First, what do we mean by ‘the world’? If we mean what exists now, then what existed just a little while ago might have caused what exists now, in accord with natural laws, and that need not include anything like a God. Perhaps we mean everything that now exists, ever has existed, and ever will exist, so that the natural world is stretched out over all of time. But then God is a part of the natural world, and so surely cannot cause it. Even if we make the natural world everything except God that now exists, has existed, or will exist, we can conclude that God has a cause, since we assumed in (2) that whatever exists has a cause. Is it possible that God has a cause? His cause must have a cause too, as long as everything that exists does, and so on ad infinitum. Surely this is not what we intended, and if we allow it, then we can ask whether the resulting totality, including the natural world and this infinite chain of causes for it, has a cause, and given that we are supposing that every totality of existing things has a cause, it must. But all of this seems absurd. God, if there is one, is a first cause, which has no cause itself.
Do we mean the world to be the natural world, including only what is governed by natural law? That seems like the right move. That everything natural has a cause in accord with natural law seems plausible enough, and God, as conceived by most philosophers, certainly stands outside the natural world to serve as its cause. But then why suppose that the natural world has a cause, now that we have asserted God does not? Why couldn’t the natural world always have existed, its later states always being explained by earlier conditions? Indeed, it seems that natural law, guaranteeing causes for all things, only works within the natural world Some things in the natural world, for instance, matter/energy, may turn out, in accord with natural law (conservation of matter/energy), always to have existed. Could something that always was be caused at all? This suggests that the cause of the natural world must be ‘outside of time’ or eternal, if there is such a cause. We will look at that proposal more closely in a bit. For now we need only note that whatever it is that leads us to say that each natural thing or event has a cause does not seem to force on us a cause of the totality of natural things stretched out over all of time. We need to find some support for that notion before we have an argument with any force here. We need to explain not only how it is that the totality of the natural world must have a cause, but also how it is that God, its cause, does not. How is God different? Until we can say that, it seems perfectly reasonable to claim that all causation is natural causation, and the totality of the natural world therefore has no cause at all. After all, do we have any reason to suppose that we have ever encountered supernatural causation? And if there is something that does not need a cause, wouldn’t the totality of natural things, present past and future, be a candidate for this position?
Aquinas’s ‘Third Way.’ We must, then, explain why it is that God does not need a cause, and in the course of the explanation, make it clear why the natural world, despite the fact that it might always have been, does need a cause. We want to assert that God is a necessary being, and argue that there must be such a being. Even if something always existed (perhaps the physical universe), if that being is contingent, that is, if it could have failed to exist, it is not a necessary being. A necessary being cannot possibly fail to exist.
Thomas Aquinas, developing an argument first stated in the Islamic philosopher Ibn Sina, argues thus that there must be a necessary being:
(1) If everything that exists at any time is contingent, that is, can fail to exist, there can be a time when nothing exists.
(2) If there can be a time when nothing exists, and there is an infinite past time, then at some time in the past nothing did exist.
(3) If, at any time in the past, nothing existed, nothing exists now, since nothing can be produced out of nothing.
(4) Something does exist now.
(1)(2)(3)(4) ∴ (5) Therefore, not everything is contingent, and there is at least one necessary being, which is responsible for the being of contingent beings.
(6) But such a necessary being would be God.
(5)(6) ∴ (7) Therefore, there is a God.
The argument is an equivocation. To see this, consider some senses of “can” or “it is possible” in (2). It could mean (no doubt among other things):
a) There is a chance greater than 0 that it is so, given what we know.
b) It is logically possible, that is, no contradiction is involved in its being so.
c) It is possible in nature, that is, it violates no natural law for it to be so.
Coordinated with these are three senses of the word “necessary”:
a) There is no chance at all that it can fail to be so, given what we know.
b) It is logically impossible that it should fail to be so—that it should fail to be so involves a contradiction.
c) It must be so because of natural law. Natural law, however, only allows us to say that something must exist given a certain causal background, and so it seems that nothing exists necessarily because of natural laws alone. So it may be that, give natural laws, energy or matter at some time arises spontaneously. This sort of thing might be true according to quantum mechanics.
Surely, for (6) to be true, (5) must refer to a being necessary in sense (b). Now (1) is false if we use sense (a), though it is true using sense (b), and perhaps using sense (c). But (2) is false using sense (b), and (c), though it is quite plausible (but not actually true!) using (a). So (5) cannot be concluded in sense (b), since (2) is false in this sense, nor does it seem it can be concluded in any other easily identifiable sense, much less one that would make (6) plausible.
Take (1): Under sense (b) it means that if it is logically possible for each thing, taken by itself, not to exist, then it is logically possible, i.e. involves no contradiction, for nothing to exist at all. This conditional may not be true, as it turns out, since two propositions can both be contingent, that is, such that each can, taken separately, be either true or false without contradiction, even though the two cannot be true together. Consider, for instance, any two contingent contradictories, such as “George has a beard,” and “George has no beard.” Still, it is plausible, and it may be true that any set of statements such that each asserts the existence or non-existence of a different object is a set of compossible statements, and in that case (1) will be true. But consider (1) under sense (a)—then it will mean that if, given what we know, each thing that exists at a given time might actually fail to exist at that time, then, given what we know, perhaps nothing exists at all at that time. But we might know some general causal laws, such as conservation of matter/energy, that guarantee that something existed at any given earlier time, given that something exists now, even if we are not in a position to specify what existed then. (It is interesting that (3) in the argument seems to be a very general law of conservation, which would follow in the physical world from conservation of matter/energy, so the argument cannot reasonably reject such laws of nature out of hand.) Under sense (c), (1) means that if it is consistent with the laws of nature for each thing to fail to exist, then it is consistent with the laws of nature for every thing to fail to exist. This may well be true, but it all depends, it seems, on whether there is some natural law from which it follows that something will come to exist even if nothing exists to start with. At least in some senses of “nothing exists” it seems, given quantum mechanics, that there may be such laws.
Take (2): Under sense (a), it means that if there is a chance greater than zero of something happening within any given finite time, given what we know, and we consider the chances that it will happen, given what we know, in an infinite time, then we can be certain it will happen in that time. This would seem to be a matter of probability theory. If the Cornell football team has a non-zero chance of winning the national championship in football, and it plays an infinite number of seasons, it has to win sooner or later. Actually, this is not quite true. What is true is that the odds of its not winning will converge on zero as the number of seasons increases indefinitely. It is logically possible, and so possible within the mathematics of probability, that it never happens over the whole infinite sequence of seasons, and that is consistent with its odds of not happening converging on zero over the whole infinite sequence. (The reason is that no matter how many seasons are to pass before Cornell is set to win, there is a non-zero chance of Cornell losing in that season too, and, of course, if Cornell will in fact win in some season, it will have to be some definite season a finite number of seasons away from now.) But however that may be, (2) is clearly false under sense (b) and (c). In the first case, it will mean that if something is logically possible at every given time over an infinite number of times, then it is contradictory for it not to happen sometime in that infinite number of times. But surely there are possibilities that never happen. Consider the logical possibility of there being a pure golden sphere a hundred miles in diameter. Surely it might be that this never has been the case and never will. Consider the same golden sphere from the viewpoint of sense (c). Here it seems that what happens over the infinite time concerned is not necessarily determined by natural law alone, without consideration in addition ‘initial conditions.’ It might be that existing natural laws produce, say, an ever repeated cycle of events, and that that cycle never includes our golden sphere. These natural laws are consistent with the existence of such a golden sphere, it may be, and it might happen that some cycle of events consistent with these laws does include our golden sphere, but that need not be the cycle that actually occurs. It is perhaps less intuitive, but the same seems true if we assume a non-cyclical universe, as long as there is an infinite subset of the set of naturally possible total states of affairs in the universe which does not exhaust the whole set.
Probably Aquinas had sense (a) in mind when he asserted (2), and sense (b) when he asserted (1), and, of course, as he worked through the rest of the argument. Since “can” has to be used in the same sense in (1) and (2) to draw the sub-conclusion (5), we can now claim that either (1) is false, or (2) is false, or the argument is invalid, and since it strictly deductive, gives us no reason at all to believe God exists.
But a fourth sense of ‘necessary existence’ might be proposed, taking it to be necessary, i.e. unavoidable, that it exist always, given that it ever exists at all. So it is the sort of thing that either never has and never will exist, or must always exist.
d) It must exist, not because it is logically impossible that it should not, nor because natural law requires it, but only because it does exist at some time, and is the sort of thing that, if it ever exists at all, must always exist. This is rather like c), perhaps, but the idea would be that energy, say, must exist, is unavoidable in the world, given that it was ever in the world at all, for energy is the sort of thing that cannot be destroyed or come into being. The natural law that says it cannot be destroyed or come into being would be rooted in the nature of energy.
If we take it that this is the sense in which God is a necessary existent, then the related sense of contingency would be the sort of thing that, given that it at some does exist, might at some other time fail to exist. In that sense, it would seem that perhaps energy is a necessary being, given the law of conservation of energy. In this sense, then, it seems that (6) is false, for surely energy need not be God, since it may not be perfectly good, or conscious, and so on. But quite aside from this, it seems that (2) will also be false, for it could happen that all existent things are preceded by different existent things without any thing being preserved always. Aristotle might have used some such argument as this to argue for the necessary existence of prime matter, and of all substantial forms which can only get into matter by the reproduction of substantial forms of the same species. So lions always were, for a lion can only come from a lion, and there are lions now. Aristotle also thought that lions always will be—why? Perhaps it is because if lions could ever cease to exist entirely, given that they’ve had forever to do this, they would have done it by now. But all this guarantees in Aristotle is some conservation laws built into the natural order, and nothing like a God need be introduced to satisfy the argument.
The Kalam Argument: Our objections to the basic form of the Cosmological argument might be approached in another way, with an analysis of what is involved in causation. It is the view of thinkers in the Neoplatonic tradition that God is eternal, and must be to be the first cause of things. The reason is that something is needed to explain why a cause at one time can produce its effect later. It might seem that a cause can only produce an effect while it is operating, so at the same time as it exists. This would be related to the suggestion in physics that there cannot be causation at a distane, so that if something affects another thing from a distance, it must be because something travels between it and the other thing. Perhaps we could propose that, similarly, there is no causation at a distance in time, at least without some causal link existing between the time of the cause and the time of the effect. The requirement would then be that causal influence travel through space and time in a continuous path, and, as we believe nowadays, with a certain finite speed, the speed of light.
But a Neoplatonist would not be satisfied by this. As he sees it, a cause must be completely simultaneous with its effect, and the requirement of continuity is not enough. This might seem to rule out using causation to explain change at all, but some Neoplatonists propose a way out of that conclusion. God, the first cause of all things, is simultaneous with all times at once, and so eternal. Note that eternality is not simply a matter of being everlasting, but rather supposes that God, from his own point of view, does not participate in the passage of time at all. God can be said to exist over a period of time, and so to endure, and to exist simultaneously with every time, but he cannot be said to have a moving present dividing the future, which is not yet, from the past, which is no more. The moving present is not a feature of reality as it is in itself, but only of the mind’s experience of reality, and God experiences reality differently than we do, so that his now moment encompasses all times at once and does not move into the future. For God there is earlier and later, but every time is now. For us there is earlier and later, and time is divided into two great periods by the moving now, which is not a period of time at all, but only the boundary between past and future. Thus, one can describe the real world entirely without mentioning what time it is, though one would say at what time each event in the world happens in describing it. The question “what time is it?” is not a question about how the world is, but about where our consciousness is currently located within it. Just as one can describe the earth entirely in a Geography class without mentioning where we are, so one can describe the universe entirely, with all its events, without mentioning when we are. God would know when it is that we are describing the world, and he would even know what time it is at the time we ask it, but that would not be what time it is for God, since God is immediately aware of all times at once.
This view allows the Neoplatonist to reduce the multitude of times to a unity, for all times are present to God as one present. Thus, there can be connections between later and earlier times, causal connections, inasmuch as there is some one thing in full contact with both times, which can enforce, as it were, those natural laws that lie behind the unity over time of natural objects, including our own consciousness. This picture of things drove some Islamic Neoplatonists into “occasionalism,” the view that God causes all events, though he does so in accord with natural laws, himself insuring the pseudo-causal links between one time and another, since an earlier time can have no causal link, considered in itself, with a later time. Behind every diversity, and in this case behind the diversity in times, lies a unity, here the eternity of God, who does not change because He is beyond all possibility of change, having no moving present. Even Thomas Aquinas, who rejects such occasionalism and insists that there is a real causal connection between natural events at different times, holds that God must sustain the world in being by the same sort of act as that by which he creates the world, from one moment to the next, so that natural causes can produce their effects.
Now it seems that we might reject this bit of Neoplatonic metaphysics, noting as we do so the extent to which our conception of God is indebted to it, but some Islamic philosophers argued that any other option was in fact self-evidently false. The reason is that it is self-evidently false that there should be an actual infinite (as Aristotle held), and an infinite past time would involve an actually infinite number of periods of time (something Aristotle does not seem to have held), all of which must have passed by now to get us to the present moment. One cannot go through an infinite number of moments and get to the end of it, and so we could never have arrived at the present moment if there is an infinite past time.
Now perhaps no one ever did go through all of past time to get to the present moment. I, for instance, have gone through some 60 years to get to the present moment, but I started to exist only 60 years ago. It seems that there might be something, matter/energy, that always existed. But even that did not go through all of past time, that is, it did not start to go through it at some time, and then finish doing so just now. It does not need to have started at some time to have existed at all past times, and, indeed, it cannot have done so, since if it started to exist at some time it did not exist earlier. This is presumably why Aristotle thought there was no impossibility in a beginningless universe, despite his rejection of an “actual infinite.” In effect, Aristotle recognized that it is not possible to have an ordering of a denumerably infinite set with a first and last element, and this is what his rejection of an actual infinite amounted to, but saw no problem with a denumerably infinite set with a first element or a last element, which he would have regarded as a potential infinite, not an actual infinite.
The Kalam argument asserts the impossibility of an actual infinite, and then goes on to argue that it follows from this impossibility that there cannot be an infinite number of past times (though there might be potentially infinite number of future times). Thus the universe must have had a beginning. Then it is argued that whatever has a beginning has a cause. Thus there must be something eternal, as the Neoplatonists held, which is the cause of all temporal things, and such a thing could only be God. Modern defenders of this argument, to establish the impossibility of an actual infinite, point out the paradoxical nature of our mathematical understanding of infinite sets, namely that an infinite set can be put into one-to-one correspondence with a proper subset of itself. Now as counter-intuitive as this is, we are committed to mathematical actual infinites (infinite sets all of whose members actually exist) if we accept that time and space are continua. Mathematicians have not found, and do not expect to find, any contradictions in the notion of an infinite set of points or instants, or a continuum. Moreover, no attempt to arrive at a physical theory in which space and time are quantized, and so not continuous, has been successful. A modern defender of this line of argument, then, cannot defend his rejection of the possibility of an actual infinite, and so an infinite past time, and so cannot argue that the universe must have had a beginning.
The Argument of Samuel Clarke. As Clarke saw it, what really motivates the cosmological argument is the attempt to explain why it is that there should ever have been anything at all. He assumes that there must be an explanation of this fact, since there must be explanations of every fact. His argument goes like this:
(1) Principle of Sufficient Reason: Every truth has some explanation why it is so, and this explanation makes it clear that it cannot be otherwise.
(2) It is a truth, let us call it T, that something has, does, or will at some time exist.
(1)(2) ∴ (3) T has an explanation why it is so.
(4) No explanation drawing on what goes on within the natural world can explain T.
(5) No explanation referring solely to contingent beings can explain T.
(3)(4)(5) ∴ (6) There must be some explanation why T is so that does not refer solely to natural, or solely to contingent, beings.
(7) For there to be such an explanation, the beings referred to in it must exist.
(6)(7) ∴ (8) There must be a super-natural, necessary being which somehow explains the truth of T.
(9) Such a being would be God.
(8)(9) ∴ (10) There is a God.
Is the Principle of Sufficient Reason true? Consider here that some questions do not admit of an answer, since their presuppositions are not satisfied. For instance, asking my youngest daughter why she continues to beat her husband is to ask a question that has no answer at all, for it presupposes that she has a husband and has been beating him, and neither of these presuppositions is true. There are even questions whose presuppositions cannot be satisfied, given the way the question is stated. Such questions do not point to great mysteries in the world, but are illegitimate, trick questions. “Why was there ever anything at all” may be such a question. How so? Well, what would an answer to it look like? There seem to be several possibilities:
(A) One might provide a cause of the existence of this stuff. But the cause’s existence would remain unexplained, so that would not explain why there was ever anything at all.
(B) One might suggest a reason why someone might want this stuff to exist. But, again, we are presupposing someone there to want it, and why such a person would exist is left unexplained, so we haven’t explained why there was ever anything at all.
(C) We might take Clarke’s line and argue that it is necessarily the case that something should exist. But what do we mean by “necessary”? Necessary for some purpose? Or do we mean it must be so, given what we know? Or do we mean it is necessary, given natural laws? Or do we mean it is logically necessary, so that we contradict ourselves if we deny it? None of these options seems to make it. For instance, say we mean it is necessary, given natural laws, that something exist. But then, why is it that the natural laws that in fact hold do so, rather than other natural laws, or none at all? Is it because of something that exists, God, say, who legislated them? Once more, we have argued in a circle, and presupposed that something existed in order to explain why anything ever existed at all. So presumably God necessarily exists, but this is not causal necessity given natural law, and of the other options, only logical necessity seems possible.
Is a necessary being, in the logical sense required, possible? Can a logically necessary being be a part of the causal order (as God must to create the world)? Other than God, are there any other logically necessary beings? Perhaps, for there are logically necessary truths or facts (for instance, that self-contradictory statements are never true), but logicians tell us that these truths actually contain no information about the way the natural world really is. Mathematical truths are logically necessary, but numbers cause nothing, and there are no mathematical events to cause anything, precisely because all of mathematics is logically necessary and unchanging, and so there are no mathematical events at all. (This is not to say that one mathematical truth may not follow from another logically, for that is not a matter of causation.) There are even things that are said to exist with logical necessity in mathematics (the solution to a certain equation, say), but these things do not cause anything, and are not affected by anything. Their existence has nothing to do with causation. So how is it that God is logically necessary, and still causes things? David Hume’s view that no fact concerning actual, causally effective existence can be logically necessary, seems very plausible. In fact, if we were to answer Hume convincingly, so that we could see just how it is that God necessarily exists and is still a causal factor in the world, we shouldn’t need Clarke’s argument, for we could show directly that God necessarily exists, without reliance on Clarke’s procedure of ruling out every alternative explanation why there was ever anything in the first place.
The upshot of our discussion is that the cosmological argument does not work. You can’t prove that God exists in that way, or even get a decent, if inconclusive, reason to believe God exists. But there has been at least one attempt to show that God exists necessarily, and we need to turn now to that argument.
The Ontological Argument
This form of argument was first presented St. Anselm of Canterbury (11th century). William Rowe lays out his argument as follows:
(1) God exists in the understanding.
(2) God might have existed in reality.
(3) If something exists only in the understanding and might have existed in reality, then it might have been greater than it is.
(4) To show it absurd, suppose that God exists only in the understanding.
(5) In that case, God might have been greater than he is.
(6) So, in that case, God is a being than which a greater is possible.
(7) But God is a being than which none greater is possible.
(8) So, if (4), a being than which none greater is possible is a being than which a greater is possible.
(9) (8) is a contradiction, so (4) must be false, and God does not exist only in the understanding.
(10) Therefore, God exists in reality.
The argument has an air of sophistry about it, in part because it is a pure a priori argument, resting on no observational or empirical facts at all. This might be all right, for, after all, such arguments are made in mathematics. One can argue a priori that certain things do not exist, since they are self-contradictory (married bachelors, for instance), and this is done in mathematics all the time. Mathematics also argues to the existence of various things (mathematical existence, not real existence as a causally active part of the natural world), but these arguments rest on assumptions about what exists beforehand. So from the existence of a certain triangle one might argue to the existence of a certain circle. Here the suggestion is that a contradiction is involved in the non-existence of something.
The argument presents a peculiar picture of non-existing things. In effect, it suggests we can talk about things that don’t exist, assigning characteristics to them, and even that non-existent things can have something happen to them—they can come to exist. But surely ‘coming to exist’ is not a change in the thing that comes to exist, as coming to be blue is. (It is, presumably a change in the world, but that is a different matter.) Look at (3): If God came to exist in reality, would he become greater? One might want to say that he has no degree of greatness at all before the ‘change’ (a non-existent general is not a rather poor general, he simply isn’t ranked on the list of generals in order of goodness at all). In that case (6) does not seem to follow. But say God did exist. Would he then be greater than God? No, he’d be equal to God in greatness. Would he be greater than the God that exists only in the understanding? But isn’t the God in the understanding the same God as the one who exists in reality? Then he is not greater. But he is greater than he would have been had he existed only in the understanding. . . No. The only degree of greatness that could be assigned to God if he existed only in the understanding would be the degree of greatness he would have if he existed, that is, a degree greater than any other being (for there is no degree of greatness such a God actually has, since he doesn’t exist). But, of course, there is no God who has this degree of greatness if he exists only in the understanding. What is in the understanding, after all? The real thing that is there is a concept, which might be a pretty neat concept, but certainly is not as great as what it is a concept of, God, would be, if it existed. The way (1) is put is metaphorical, and rather misleading.
Other points: Does existence make something better or worse? If I add existence to a list of good qualities for a general to be hired, have I somehow improved the list? Maybe existence is a prerequisite to being any good at all. If it doesn’t exist, it isn’t good (or bad), it’s just something that would be good, if it existed.
What about the worst possible being? Surely it would be worse if it existed, and so we could prove that an omnipotent perfectly evil being exists—but we can’t have two omnipotent beings, one good and one evil, for each would prevent the other from doing things, and neither can supposedly be prevented from doing anything! Maybe God would not be better or greater if He existed, but rather the world would be better. (We might say, “it would be better if there were a God.”)
Now we might consider how the argument would fare if we take God’s necessity, as under (d) in our discussion of Aquinas’s “third way,” to be a matter of his necessarily existing always if he ever exists at all. Then (3), Anselm’s principle that God “might have been greater than he is” could receive two readings. On one reading, given that God does exist, he might have been greater than he is, which it seems, is absurd. But what if God, the being than which no greater exists, does not in fact exist. It would seem that there is no God with no greatness at all, then, and to say that God might have been greater than he is in such a situation would be to fail to refer to anything using the word “god.” Or perhaps it refers to the concept of God, or “God in the intellect.” Then it says “God might have been greater than he is conceived to be,” which seems false, for the best we could say is that God, if he existed, would be as great as he is conceived to be. Or perhaps it says “the concept of God might have been greater than it is,” which seems, perhaps, true, assuming a concept is greater if it actually applies to something, but unproblematic, since it won’t support the rest of the argument. Or perhaps it means that God himself, in the intellect, might be greater than he is if he were to escape from the intellect into the existing world, but that, as we have seen, seems to misconstrue what it is to be in the intellect but not to exist.
So the upshot is that the argument does not work.
The Argument from Design, A Deductive Approach: The argument from design occurs in two different forms. The deductive argument might first be stated thus:
(1) Nature exhibits design.
(2) Whatever exhibits design is the work of a designer.
(1)(2) ∴ (3) Nature is the work of a designer.
(4) Anything that designed nature must be God.
(3)(4) ∴ (5) God exists.
What is “design” here? Perhaps all that is meant is order, and in that case it is clear that (1) is true. But then the argument works only if we assume that:
(2') Whatever exhibits order is the work of a designer.
But this is an implausible assumption. Observation suggests that order emerges naturally in all sorts of ways. Indeed, perhaps we could even say that order is the natural outcome, given enough time, of randomness. Perhaps we mean by design, order adapted to a purpose, as in living things. Then we need:
(2'') Whatever exhibits order adapted to a purpose is the work of a designer.
This is better, but it might be challenged if the emergence of such order could be explained by evolution, say, as something that occurs through natural processes rooted in order that is not adapted to a purpose. There might be two ways in which this could happen. There might be functionality to be found in animals and plants, such as is found in the eye or the heart, and there might be an adaptation of the environment to the needs of animals and plants, so that temperatures, say, are within a certain range, or there is enough of the right intensity of sunlight. To justify (2'') within this argument we would need to claim that order adapted to a purpose cannot be explained through such natural processes at all. Any determined attempt to do that will involve us in figuring out what the best explanation for such order is, and one would hope to show that a designer is the only possible explanation of such order. If it is claimed that the designer is only a better explanation than evolution, and evolution is not intended to be ruled out entirely, then we have a non-deductive approach to the argument from design, which we will examine in the next section.
How could it be argued that the order adapted to purpose found in connection with biological beings can only have arisen from a designer? Perhaps we could point out that even if evolution explains the sort of order involved in (2''), still, it presupposes order rooted in natural law, and explains biological function and related phenomena as an outcome of this order. Then we must assume that:
(2''') Whatever exhibits order rooted in natural law is the work of a designer.
This, finally, seems to get at the real intention of the argument. But why suppose it is true? Perhaps natural law require a law-giver that forces it to be obeyed. Surely to insist on that is to take the metaphor in the phrase “natural law” rather too seriously. A law established by a legislature or King can be disobeyed, whereas a natural law cannot. Is the necessity involved in natural law a necessity imposed by authority or some power, and is the reason it cannot be disobeyed that that power or authority is so great? It seems much better to say that the sort of necessity implied in natural law lies behind every particular power and natural power in general, and so lies behind any order that could give the necessary background context to the existence of an authority. To insist that the existence of natural necessity be explained by reference to some prior necessity is like insisting that the existence of the universe be explained by reference to some existing thing prior to the universe. In the second case we are asking why there was ever anything at all, and in the former, why there was ever any necessity (of a non-logical sort) at all. So the same problems we observed with the cosmological argument are found here.
Finally, if we take it that “order” means order actually produced by a designer, it would seem to produce a strictly valid deductive argument, but some additional argument is needed for (1). How can we make out that the world has an order in it produced by a designer? One needs to consider, perhaps, just how analogous the world is to one or another case of a clearly designed object, like the watch found on the seashore. What we will end up with hinges on the quality of our non-deductive argument for (1). But any analogy would seem to be ship-wrecked on the fact that the watch, or whatever other item we might bring into the picture, has a background of natural laws, technology, animals found in the region in which it occurs, and so forth, from which we can establish that its order is the sort that is likely to be designed, rather than occurring naturally, without the intervention of a designer. Moreover, we can understand how the designer might produce the watch, and assess the likelihood that a designer is behind it, by considering what the sorts of designers we are likely to encounter are capable of and what their intentions might be. In considering the orderliness of the universe taken as a whole, we remove this background, and so are no longer able to assess what the chances are that it was produced by design, and we make the designer omnipotent and omniscient, which means that anything at all could have been designed by him. We might imagine that this makes the argument stronger, but it in fact eliminates all basis for argument entirely, for an all powerful natural law, with no design in mind, might equally produce simply anything that we encounter. If the hypothesis will explain anything at all, then the fact that it explains what we encounter cannot be taken to provide any support for the hypothesis. It has to rule out some possible observations before observation can support it—it has to take a risk of being wrong before it can be supported from the fact that it gets things right.
Another problem is raised by David Hume: God appears to exhibit design in his actions, for they are intelligent, and well calculated to give the outcome He wants. So is God Himself the work of something else, some designer? Perhaps something necessarily exhibiting design must exist, to explain the contingently designed, and so on. From here we can repeat all the moves made with the Cosmological Argument.
It seems clear, then, that the deductive form of the argument from design does not work.