Teleological arguments for the existence of God have a long history and straddle Greek Antiquity (Platos Divine Artificer), Islam (Averroes) and Christianity (Aquinas) and currently and most famously the intelligent design movement in the states.

They appear to have been comprehensively critiqued mainly it seems by the success of the two sciences - Physics which crafts a universe of unbending law and biology through it support of evolution.

Yet, it seems to me that these critiques are not impervious to attack. That is it appears simply the intellectual environment has changed such that these arguments no longer have any purchase. That is the basis for believing in these arguments were coherent with a number of positions, and when they fell - they all fell together.

Are there any philosophers have mounted effective challenges to these critiques of the teleological argument?

  • Thomas Nagel's most recent book, Mind and Cosmos defends some sort of teleology. I have to admit I haven't read it, so I can't say much more. It has, however, been pretty heavily criticized. See this blog-posting for some discussion. – Dennis May 29 '13 at 0:06

The teleological argument is effectively dead. The last gasp at it was by William Dembski and Michael Behe with "irreducible complexity" (the intellectual core of the intelligent design movement), and they simply failed to understand the actual problem and/or came up with handwaving to state that certain things were impossible, when in fact they were not only possible but there were examples of them.

That evolution provides the mechanism to produce all the complexity of life seen today is no longer in serious doubt; and that simple physical laws suffice to produce all the complexity of the universe is also no longer in serious doubt. The only area not completely nailed down is fine-tuning of universal constants, and that makes for an incredibly weak teleological argument since all we know about reality with different constants is that our familiar physics doesn't work. We cannot predict whether there'd be some other complex physical reality admitting evolution, so we can't tell if the numbers are actually finely tuned and thus whether we should be surprised by them.

I would go so far as to say that at this point there cannot be any effective challenges to these critiques without a radical re-evaluation of our scientific knowledge. That is to say, such challenges will not come soon, nor will they come through philosophy initially. If there are unexpectedly large flaws in the science, then there may be some wiggle room in which to attempt another teleological argument, but finding such flaws is a scientific endeavor.

  • Well there is one carefully worked out theory where c the speed of light changes. Its used to account for inflation without inflation in the early universe. – Mozibur Ullah May 29 '13 at 5:15
  • @MoziburUllah - There is, but what is the relevance for the teleological argument? (I'd call this "expectedly small".) – Rex Kerr May 29 '13 at 5:43
  • There isn't. It was just a comment. It does seem to me that in fact the argument from design always applies. For why are the laws as they are, that is why are they designed that way. Here I'm not talking about the constants, but also the model (ie the laws themselves). If we build a better theory which that model was the unique solution (as some solutions of fine-tuning propose) then we still need to tackle the same question a 'level' up. That is we get an infinite regress. I don't see how you can escape that regress. I can see that as leaving 'wriggle' room for teleology. – Mozibur Ullah May 29 '13 at 5:52
  • @MoziburUllah - That we can explain regularities with a mathematical model does not imply that any problems are solved or ameliorated by adding a hypothetical entity that builds models. You still have the regress too (why is the model-builder designed that way). – Rex Kerr May 29 '13 at 6:26
  • lets put that aside for the moment - I'm not suggesting that its an easy problem to assign teleology. What I am pointing out is that there is an infinite regress - mathematically model-wise. Do you agree with that? – Mozibur Ullah May 29 '13 at 11:13

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