The teleological argument is an inductive means reaching the conclusion that the universe was designed by an intelligent entity. Essentially, if were to find a complicated machine in the middle of nowhere, we would not suppose it were there by chance or by whim of nature. Rather, we would suppose that the complexity and form, and perhaps function it is apparent, inferred that it was created by an intelligent being. In the same sense, though, we find that complexity of equal and greater magnitude, and form far more impressive, is readily observable in the universe. The complexity of any human made machine pales in comparison to the complexity of the biological machinery of a single bacterium. So complex is nature that even today it never ceases to surprise us and evade our predictive and descriptive capacities.

Now the process of induction begins by claiming that like effects warrant the assumption of like causes. Within the complexity of every single human creation, we find evidence of intelligent human design. Thusly, in other incidences of complexity and form for which no designer is known, the only logical and consistent conclusion is that it was intelligently designed.

There are several strengths to the argument, such as its deceptively scientific approach to the issue. Through implying inductive logic to empirical data, as science does, the most probable and plausible conclusion is reached. Also, like any inductive conclusion, it admits the possibility of being wrong. Regardless, it is an attempt at the best possible explanation; an explanation consistent with the extent of human understanding and observation.

The argument, in my opinion, is not consistent with human understanding nor is it rational. This should be apparent when examining the impression that our human constructions are similar to nature's constructions, and nature itself. The first similarity, complexity, can be somewhat disputed. Our creations are not objectively complex, but rather relatively complex compared to some aspects of nature. On the other hand, the complexity of our designs is relatively simple when compared to the complexity of a single cell. The closest thing I can think of to describe complexity in objective terms is entropy. Still, though, the title of complexity can only be assigned relative to some other part aspect of nature. The teleological argument, in this context, can only be used to persuade one to believe that things more complex than our own creations are intelligently designed. The universe, though, is neither complex nor simple. The universe has both simple can complicated parts. In fact, the net entropy of the universe is increasing, and thusly net complexity is decreasing. At some point, far in the future, the degree of complexity in even our simplest creations will be impossible, and the argument would cease to be viable. Think of it in terms of temperature, where complexity would synonymous with hot or cold. The terms hot and cold only describe our impressions of the temperature, just as complexity only described our impressions of organization. To a far more intelligent being, the inner workings of a cell might seem simple. Similarly, the 25 degrees Celsius we find so comfortable might be fatally cold to an intelligent alien organism.

The next similarity worth examination is function. In examining a human creation, we can generally find some sort of means to an end, that end being of interest to the creator. An automobile, for example, produces motion, and that motion can be harnessed and controlled, which is evident from the presence of seats and a steering wheel. In a watch, we find the intention of knowing the time. In nature, too, we see function, especially in the context of life. Like a watch, the solar system turns and rotates. Unlike a watch though, there is no apparent intention in the orbiting of the planets, no evidence of an intended end. The motion of the planets is dictated by natural law, and so to are the motions of the watch. However, those parts of the watch were placed in such a way that indicates intention. We utilize the momentum of nature to produce a desired end, an end which can be derived from most of our constructions and our understanding of human need. The motions of celestial bodies, though, are dictated totally by natural law, namely gravity. Their placement and position, too, hold no apparent indication of strategy of a desired end. While the motions of the planet may serve some function to some outsider, our lack of understanding for such an outsider bars us from possibly being able to understand, describe, or even detect the intended function. Lest we presume the existence of a anthropomorphic creator, thereby begging the question, the desired function of anything but out own constructions is anything but apparent.

The function of something is relative to the creator. If we do not understand the nature of the creator we can not even begin to guess at the intended function. In this case, we are limited by our anthropomorphic tendencies. We can not pretend to know how a thing might serve a creator without presuming the creator exist and has certain needs (despite being "perfect&quotEye-wink. It is speculation, at best, and gives no extra credibility to the argument as a whole until unless the argument is presumed to be true in the first place.

One might point to the complex laws of nature, and their origins. This presumes that the very fabric of the universe is complex. Though, in comparison to what is the universe complex? We have no such comparison and, even if we did, we still find ourselves troubled by intricacies of complexity previously discussed. In fact, upon closer examination, the laws of nature seem deceptively simple when compared to the extraordinary manifestations they lead to. Gravity gives solar systems, stars, galaxies, and yet is little more than a tendency of attraction. Within every part of nature observed thus far, despite its beauty and awe inspiring complexity, are nothing more than manifestations basic natural laws.

In summary, I do agree that like effects warrant the assumption of like causes. However, upon close examination, I see only few similarities between a painting and a nebula, a watch and the solar system, or an organism and city. The lack of apparent function and intention lead me to believe the universe is indifferent, serving no exterior need.

- Chalmer

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Designed by mathematics. Created by a computer -

MSCD Atheists wrote I do agree that like effects warrant the assumption of like causes.

Like effects may warrant a hypothesis of like causes, and justify further examination. But causation must be demonstrated by empirical analyses.
I have a problem right at the start of your argument. No, complexity is not what would cause us to believe that something is the product of an intelligent being.

It would be simplicity.

I have a stainless steel paper weight on my desk, it is clearly not natural. Why? Because in nature it would be a clump of iron ore. Intelligence must simplify to utilize.

My cat, also on my desk, is complicated, but mostly natural.
Hi, Chalmer

Teleology is a key contention in debates between those who veer towards supernatural explanations of phenomena and those who are, to say the least, deeply skeptical about any such conclusion. I liked your post and your take on the simplicity/complexity issue, because it summarises neatly the way many people conceptualise it, but I’d just like to throw in a couple of associated points about teleology.

Because, as you say, the teleological argument has its basis in inductive logic, my first point has to do with what psychological and other research has to tell us about teleological thinking, thinking that putatively reveals purposes, ends and the designs that presuppose them. Much of this research tells us, as far as I can see, that we are ‘natural born teleologists’. Where anthropology and evolutionary biology can usefully contribute, a common mode of enquiry is that of ascertaining how the underlying neural correlates of this cognitive - particularly socially cognitive - disposition contributed adaptively to our survival. In other words, it constitutes a search for the origins of teleology and, by virtue of a long detour, of the teleological argument. A common form of explanatory hypothesis would run along these lines: through some mixture of direct experience, memory, and a genetically inherited capacity for detecting threats, our conspecific ancestors were apt at perceiving very rapidly that the shape, size, movement and other characteristics of a predatory animal indicated an intention to have them for breakfast. One could not imagine a more pressing need to capture automatically and immediately a basic potential cause and effect structure in the situation and predict the predator’s next move. This prediction, a proto-theory-of-mind move, constitutes an elementary teleology, a goal-orientation. Many modes of cognition acquired genetically from adaptive ancestral responses to evolutionary environmental constraints have now been shown to persist in modern humans, in some cases where they are not ideally suited to dealing with 21st century conditions, and would often be considered irrational. Some show up quite clearly, for example, in empirical studies conducted over several decades under the general heading of probability theory. This should make us very wary of subscribing to the ‘natural teleology’ theorised by philosophers like Kant. Interestingly, the whole logic of Kant’s thesis is that the ends of existence, and God, are discoverable through higher reasoning, and that this is made causally possible because, at a lower experiential level of reasoning, man finds a teleological thrust in nature. In other words, if the ‘natural’ teleology were not there, the superior inductive logic would not work.

My second point has to do with the anthropic principle which, although there are divergent interpretations of it, generally illustrates one important way of understanding the sway of teleological arguments. This principle alerts us to the temptation of assuming that, because we have been successful in becoming the only surviving exemplars of the genus Homo, the whole process of evolution was predestined teleologically to result in us as its magnum opus, and that we and the particular human faculty we call intelligence represent the pinnacle of evolution and epitomise the purpose of the cosmos. This is the argument from design writ large. The logic underpinning it is deceptive, and can go something like this: if humans had not evolved with consciousness and intelligence, there would be no existential fact about a cosmos that could be known; therefore, intelligence must have evolved for the purpose of there being any form of ontology, and its emergence could only have been predestined by a prior greater intelligence. There are too many suspect premises in this for my taste, although I haven’t tried putting it into classic syllogistic form. The late biologist Stephen Jay Gould pointed out that single-celled creatures could claim to have been much more successful than Homo sapiens in evolutionary terms, from the point of view of their survival capacity. The philosopher Thomas Nagel famously introduced the idea that there must be something that it’s like to be a bat. There might be something that it’s like to be a single-celled creature, and that might be understanding its own role as the goal of creation by virtue of its evolutionary success. One thing which makes it hard for me to go along with predestinarian teleology is that the dice was so heavily loaded against the survival of life at all. Evolutionary catastrophes over billions of years are well documented and don’t persuade me that we were meant to come up smiling, although I’m certainly rather pleased that we did!

Cheers, Dave


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