apologetics, arguments for God, atheism, The Teleological Argument

Dawkins discussing “The Greatest Show On Earth” (Attempts to Counter Teleology)

There was a video I found online of Dawkins talking about his latest book, “The Greatest Show On Earth.” Naturally I had to watch it and I honestly found myself laughing out loud at a few points. Dawkins is surely a good speaker. I find him quite a natural at sounding amiable despite spitting blasphemy and utter illogic the entire time.

Now I have not read the book. I cracked it open at Borders recently, but that’s about it, so these comments only come from the video.

Dawkins’ brand of argument is one that I am honestly baffled by. Basically, what Dawkins says, is that the reason we see so much apparent design in the universe is because it could not have failed to be any other way, given the fact that we are here to observe it. I have heard this argument before but never really reflected on how ridiculous it is before now.

“The fact of our own existence is perhaps too surprising to bear… How is it that we find ourselves not merely existing, but surrounded by such complexity, such excellence, such endless forms so beautiful… The answer is this: it could not have been otherwise, given that we are capable of noticing our existence at all and of asking questions about it.”- Dawkins, in the interview at the link above.

The argument seems at first to be as follows:

[1]

1. There is apparent design in the universe that brought about our existence.

2. We exist.

3. The reason we see apparent design in the universe is because we exist.

What!? I don’t even want to delve into the depths of how many fallacies there are in this argument, as I may have constructed it wrong. Perhaps the argument is, instead:

[2]

1. We exist

2. There is apparent design in the universe that brought about our existence.

3. Therefore, we are here to observe that design.

Again, what!?

But on further reflection, perhaps these arguments are unfair to the original statement. It may be that the argument is not meant analytically, and instead should just be seen as a brute statement of fact:

Conclusion [1]: The apparent design we see in the universe is observed simply because we exist to observe it.

Another way to state this could be:

Conclusion [2]: We read design for our existence into the universe because we exist to do so.

I still can’t get over how utterly question begging all of these assertions are. Perhaps I could answer with a parody that begs the question in favor of teleology:

Conclusion [3]: We read design for our existence into the universe because it actually is there.

I think that my conclusion has about as much [or more] validity as the argument Dawkins [and others] makes.

Basically what Dawkins and others who make this argument have done is acknowledge the tremendous weight that the teleological argument brings to the table, and then decide to beg the question against it in their own favor by saying, “Well of course it seems designed for us, we’re here, aren’t we?”

But let me be perhaps more fair. Maybe Dawkins is really trying to say that:

Conclusion [4]: Because we are here to observe all of these things, it follows that they should appear to be designed for us, for we could not have come about if such conditions had not occurred.

This may, at first glance, seem more valid. But let us examine it further. How is it that it somehow follows from this conclusion that the design is not in fact intelligent design? How does it follow that the design does not point specifically to creation? I don’t think there is any good way to try to exclude either of these alternatives. What Dawkins has in fact done is not eliminate design from the equation, but introduce evolution as an alternative explanation. He acknowledges design, and then throws evolution into the mix as a possible explanation (“How is it… it could not have been otherwise”). It’s essentially giving up on trying to explain away design and instead admitting it and trying to explain it within evolution.

It follows that such people have been thrown into a trilemma:

1. Admit design and then beg the question against it

2. Admit design and modify the theory of evolution in an ad hoc manner [which again begs the qeustion]

3. Deny design entirely

The third option has become increasingly untenable, so people like Dawkins have tried the first two. Unfortunately, in doing so they have abandoned the very logic they claim to cling to.

But again, perhaps I may be accused of erecting a straw man. “It’s not that Dawkins is saying there is design, just that there appears to be design, because we are here.” I answer again by saying that this is completely question-begging against teleology. It smacks of a complete ad hoc modification of one’s view.

But I think there is a stronger argument I have left out. Perhaps Dawkins means to argue:

[3]

1. If some species X exists, then the universe would appear designed for X.

2. X exists.

3. Therefore, the universe appears designed for X.

Okay. How does this in any way eliminate or discredit design? I don’t see any reason to accept the view that it does. All it states is what is obvious. It doesn’t, however, eliminate the following argument:

[4]

1. If some species X exists, then the universe is designed for X.

2. X exists.

3. Therefore, the universe is designed for X.

Nor does it do anything to somehow discredit this latter argument. All it’s done is formulate a weaker version of the teleological argument, which is the argument many theists are using nowadays to begin with.

But there is even one more argument I have forgotten:

[5]

1. If species X exists, then it is impossible that conditions are such that X would fail to exist.

2. X exists.

3. Therefore, it is impossible that conditions are such that X would fail to exist.

I think this is perhaps the strongest form or Darwins’ argument. According to this argument, it simply follows that if any one species (or probably, any being whatsoever) exists, then conditions could not have been anything but what they are. I believe this is not a straw man largely because it is formulated almost exactly from what Dawkins says (see quote above, specifically “The answer is this: it could not have been otherwise…”). In other words, if something exists, then it is simply obvious that conditions would have to be such that that thing exists. I would answer:

There are major problems for the evolutionist holding to this view. For in stating that it would be impossible for conditions to be otherwise, one making this argument has made it necessarily true that every species that does exist, exists. In other words, the universe exists in such a fashion that it is necessarily true that humans came to exist. Similarly, it is necessarily true that walruses, cardinals, and the like came to exist. But what does that say about evolution? Where did the natural selection go? Where did the random chance go? What has happened to those conditions that factor into making species diverse? For if the species that exist today exist because of a necessary chain of events leading up to the species that currently exist, it follows [due to necessity] that the speceis that exist now could not have failed to exist, nor could there have been other species. I think that this kind of argument should make the atheistic evolutionist quite uncomfortable, for if it is necessarily true that humans exist, all they’ve done is actually acknowledge that the universe was arranged in such a way that humans would actually exist.

And I see no way to make this argument without including necessity in it. For if necessity is left out of argument [5] above, then it suffers from the problem of not actually eliminating design. But if necessity is included in the argument, then it follows that species that exist now exist necessarily, and therefore the universe is such that humans have come about necessarily because of pre-existing conditions, which many theists would gladly acknowledge, and perhaps even cling to.

I conclude with restating my exact quote from Dawkins’ mouth. I leave out his paltry answer this second time, for his question remains unanswered in light of his illogic. Thank you, Dawkins, for acknowledging that the universe was specifically designed for us.

“The fact of our own existence is perhaps too surprising to bear… How is it that we find ourselves not merely existing, but surrounded by such complexity, such excellence, such endless forms so beautiful?”

I answer: God.

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “Dawkins discussing “The Greatest Show On Earth” (Attempts to Counter Teleology)

  1. Thanks for posting this JW. I appreciate the thoughtful discussion! It was helpful.

    Posted by Open2Truth | October 12, 2009, 4:55 PM
  2. “How is it that it somehow follows from this conclusion that the design …”

    Stop.
    Where in his statement did you see ‘design’ mentioned?
    Where did he claim that design was ‘apparent’?
    Where did he ‘accept’ design?
    Where did he ‘admit’ design?

    “Basically, what Dawkins says, is that the reason we see so much apparent design in the universe…”

    He said no such thing. When speaking of what another says, it’s best to drop the qualifiers (basically, etc), and refute what he ACTUALLY says.

    Since he says no such thing, referring not to ‘design’, the rest of the argument would qualify as a straw man and is moot.

    Posted by Brad | October 17, 2009, 12:32 AM
    • Well, please note that this post was a developing view of his argument (and arguments similar to his). I first hypothesize that the terms he’s using, and I quote again, “The fact of our own existence is perhaps too surprising to bear… How is it that we find ourselves not merely existing, but surrounded by such complexity, such excellence, such endless forms so beautiful…” are some admission of apparent design.

      But later on I specifically leave that inference out of the argument, in argument [5].

      Your objection is noted, but I answered it myself in the post by dropping it out of the equation on the last form of the argument, in which I don’t say anything about design at all.

      Don’t be unfair to me here, I develop his points to the point that design is left out entirely.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 17, 2009, 4:57 AM

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  1. Pingback: Why ask the “Why” question? « - October 24, 2009

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