The Methodology Behind the Teleological Argument

by Max Andrews

The argument from design is modest in what it purports.  The final claim and conclusion is that there is an extremely intelligent and personal mind, which is responsible for the design in the universe.[1]  The Greek word, telos, is an end goal or purpose.  The design argument was first developed by the ancient Greeks and popularized by William Paley (1743-1805).  The objections to Paley, which served as a catalyst for the arguments popularity among science and philosophy, were purported by David Hume (1711-1776).

The current state of the argument has gained considerable advances in interest in philosophy, theology, science, and even culture.  Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking purported in his recent [paradoxically titled] book, The Grand Design, that the universe no longer needs intervention or a supernatural being to account for the design and creation of the universe.[2]  Most of the interests in the design argument are advances in the scientific account for the beginning of the universe, which are used to argue against the fine-tuning, which will be evaluated.

It is paramount to explicate from the beginning that this is philosophy of science.  This practice is not theological.[3]  The argument is a posteriori gathered from the natural sciences.  The method by which design will be inferred is a historical science.  There are four differences between a historical science and a laboratory science.  First, repeatability is not applicable in the historical sciences; it is a metacriterion for laboratory science.  Second, historical science assumes uniformitarianism, that is, there are presently known causes to phenomena, which can be inferred by perceived effects.[4]  Third, the theories and explanatory hypotheses must lay in empirical harms way.  The conclusions must be falsifiable.  It should be noted that the type of scientific inquiry will be that of an Augustinian science as opposed to a Duhemian science.  Augustinian science permits and carries open metaphysical presuppositions with science.  Duhemian science strips science of all metaphysical imports.  This point yields to the final distinction, which is the understanding that historical science must use non-controversial reasoning.  The controversial claim for the design proponent is simply the introduction of intelligent causation.  However, this is not as controversial as much of the scientific community makes it out to be.  Agency is publically accepted evidence by experience.[5]

Such methods are derived from the use of abductive reasoning.  The American philosopher and logician Charles Sanders Peirce first described abduction.  He noted that, unlike inductive reasoning, in which a universal law or principle is established from repeated observations of the same phenomena, and unlike deductive reasoning, in which a particular fact is deduced by applying a general law to another particular fact or case, abductive reasoning infers unseen facts, events, or causes in the past from clues or facts in the present.[6] Consider the following syllogism:

If it rains, the streets will get wet.

The streets are wet.

Therefore, it rained.

The use of abductive reasoning may seem fallacious at first take.  This syllogism commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent.  One cannot deduce from the data, that the streets are wet, that it rained because there are many other explanations for why the streets are wet.  It could have been the case that a fire hydrant was allowed to flow, a street cleaner came through, a concerned citizen who wanted to clean the chalk off of the streets from the little children drawing pictures or writing words, there are many possibilities that could explain why the road was wet.  This was the problem that posed Peirce:  How was it that despite the logical problem of affirming the consequent, one nevertheless frequently makes conclusive inferences about the past?  The key point is the explanatory scope and power of the explanation.  Abductive reasoning does not derive a certain conclusion (for one would then be guilty of affirming the consequent), but it makes an inference to the best explanation.  Peirce’s example was whether anyone should believe in the existence of Napoleon.  He claimed that the past may be inferred from the study of present effects, namely, artifacts and records.  Peirce concluded, “Though we have not seen the man [Napoleon], yet we cannot explain what we have seen without the hypothesis of his existence.”[7]  Despite the apparent fallacy, W.P. Alston, W.B. Gallie, and Michael Scriven have observed, such arguments can be restated in a logically acceptable form if it can be shown that Y has only one cause (i.e. X) or that X is a necessary condition (or cause) of Y.  Thus, arguments of the form:

X is antecedently necessary to Y,

Y exists,

Therefore, X existed

are logically valid by philosophers and persuasive by historical and forensic scientists.[8]

The suggestion was that a particular abductive hypothesis can be firmly established if it can be shown that it represents the best or only explanation of the “manifest effects” in question.[9]  The only causally adequate explanation of the life-permitting data is intelligent causation.  Minds, by experience, are capable of presenting and originating specified complex information.

            [1] The most modest claims of the argument are for an intelligent cause.  I choose to add a “personal mind” to the argument due to metaphysical implications of an intelligent causation.

            [2] Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York:  Random House, 2010), 8.  Hawking and Mlodinow base their positions on a model-dependent realism approach.  This ultimately voids all objective claims and their objections to design, primarily due to their confidence in M-Theory.

            [3] The argument, when combined with a cumulative case, may then be exported as philosophy of religion, but for now, the methods and data that will be examined will be done so from a scientific and philosophical perspective.

             [4] The method of uniformitarianism is currently understood in the scientific community as an assumption of the regular course of events as well as catastrophism (which would be implied by the presently known cause and effect relationships).

            [5] This is not based on religious explanations or religious experience.

            [6] In the words of Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell (New York:  Harper Collins, 2009), 153.  Charles Peirce, Collected Papers, 2:375; “Abduction and Induction.”

            [7] Peirce, Collected Papers, 2:375.

            [8] Stephen C. Meyer, “A Scientific History—and Philosophical Defense—of the Theory of Intelligent Design.” W. P. Alston, “The Place of the Explanation of Particular Facts in Science,” Philosophy of Science 38 (1971):  13-34.  W. B. Gallie, “Explanations in History and the Genetic Sciences” in Theories of History:  Readings from Classical and Contemporary Sources (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1959), 386-402. Michael Scriven, “Explanation and Prediction in Evolutionary Theory,” Science 130 (1959):  477-482.

            [9] Meyer, Signature in the Cell, 154.


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