Friday, January 25, 2013

Gambling on the Teleological Argument

Theists often propose the teleological argument for God’s existence; that is, given the apparent complexity of the universe and the emergence of life therein, the universe must have been designed by some rational agent. What the theist is saying – in no uncertain terms – is that they believe all of the life, in all the world, in all the universe, is too incredible to be the byproduct of chance. In short, it is believed by theists that the degree of complexity the universe exhibits is so mind-boggling, it must be the result of some kind of superior intelligence that had the intension to construct it. 
            There are many well-known objections to the teleological argument. Richard Dawkins argues in his book The God Delusion that use of the argument applies to the existence of God as well; God’s existence becomes even more unlikely than the universe’s existence. Thus, the question, “Who made God?” is raised. In Atheism: The Case Against God, George H. Smith argues that evidence of design are those things not found in nature. Another objection argues that even if the universe were designed, such a fact tells us nothing about the designer other than that they are capable of designing and building a universe. It is this objection that I’d like to focus and expand upon.
            This particular flaw in the theist’s reasoning, the conclusion of the existence of their god based upon the appearance of complexity of the universe, is quite peculiar. It certainly does not tell us anything about who designed and built the universe if it was in fact designed and built. But an even greater peculiarity is in the conclusion of a single designer.
            What do we know about things that are designed? More often than not, we know that the greater the complexity of something, a skyscraper for instance, the greater likelihood there is of there being multiple designers; a designer of the overall structure and a designer or designers of the parts that constitute the exterior and interior of the building. It is almost never the case that a designer designs both the overall structure of a building and all of it parts. What is even less likely is that a designer designs both the overall structure of a building and all of it parts and builds the building all by themselves. In fact, I don’t believe there is a skyscraper in the world that has been designed and built all the way from the parts up by single, solitary individual. If, as a theist would naturally argue, that the universe is more complex than a skyscraper, the probability that multiple designers and an equally important construction crew were involved in creating the universe just increased significantly.
            Probability works against the theist in other ways as well. Let’s apply the idea of probability to the chances that any given theist adheres to the one true religion.
            Let’s look at the numbers: There are at least 21 distinct major religions, to say nothing of the number of denominations within those divisions. For example, there are at least 10 different denominations of, say, Christianity. Protestantism is a denomination of Christianity with at least 10 strains within its own division. If there are at least two denominations within each of the other twenty divisions of religion, we’re looking at least 59 religions. Conventional wisdom contends that they can’t all be true. So, what are the odds that any given theist belongs to the one true religion? 59-to-1! Even if we only stick to the major divisions of religion, the probability of someone worshipping the one true god or gods is still 21-to-1. That, I believe, is typically referred to as a long-shot.
            Ultimately, believing in a God-constructed universe comes down to confirmation bias; one has to believe in God first in order to make the numbers work in favor of the teleological argument. Even if the numbers did work, it tells us nothing in particular about which specific god created everything. As before, you have to believe in a particular god first in order to specify who the improbable Creator is. Now we must ask ourselves, what are the chances of any given theist actually giving the teleological argument any thought? Slim to none, given their degree of faith.

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