Friday, June 15, 2012

Evolution and Design

Kevin Vallier generated a hailstorm of comments by posting the following on Facebook: "Hypothesis: Darwinism does not significantly alter the force of the design argument for God's existence. If it was weak before Darwin, it was weak after Darwin. If it was strong before Darwin, it was strong after Darwin."

Kevin is surely correct here. One way to see this is to reverse the situation: If we tomorrow were to see animals simply popping into existence out of nowhere, would (and should) this convince any atheists that God exists? No: it would simply be held that somehow nature is such that animals pop into existence out of nowhere, and a "naturalistic" theory of how they do so would be developed.

Or think of this: If you believe Rembrandt painted a particular picture hanging in your hallway, would this belief be weakened if someone told you, "No, the reason that paint clings to that canvas can easily be explained by the chemical properties of the canvas"? Showing that something came about through a physio-chemical process has no bearing on the question of whether or not it was designed. It might have implications about who the designer could be: if it appeared beyond the physical capacities of the posited designer to manipulate the process in question, then we could conclude that, whether or not the item under examination was designed, that was not the designer! For example, if someone says to you, "All life on earth was designed by slugs," it's fair to point out that this doesn't seem to be the sort of thing of which slugs are capable. But of course, faced with someone who believes "An all-powerful being used the process of evolution to generate the creatures he wished to have populate his world," to respond "Nah, that would be beyond such a being's capabilities."

UPDATE: I thought of a nice example walking back from my daughter's play tonight. Last night against the Thunder, Miami's Shane Battier banked in a three-point shot. I can picture a Heat and a Thunder fan sitting together watching the game. The Thunder fan screams, "What a lucky shot!" The Heat fan claims, "No, he meant to bank that." So the Heat fan is claiming design, and the Thunder fan chance. The Thunder fan might present various arguments backing his view, such as "Battier never banks his three-point shots," or "Nobody tries to bank in a shot from there." But it is pretty clearly useless to his cause to say "There was no design involved: that shot followed the laws of physics the whole way!"


  1. As a sophomore in college I once wrote a paper arguing that the existence of DNA and its role in natural selection was sufficiently subtle and beautiful that Paley, had he only known about it, would surely have made it central to his thesis.

    I'm sure this is far from an original thought, but I was quite proud of it at the time.


Current review queue

Pearce: British Journal for the History of Philosophy Deneen: The American Conservative Chao-Reiss: Computing Reviews