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Nature of Religious Experience


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Title: Nature of Religious Experience

The Classical Design Argument
Inferring Gods Existence from Design Features
of the Universe
Arguments for Gods Existence
The project of developing arguments for Gods
existence is typically designated natural
theology. Theology discourse about
God Natural a mode of discourse that engages
the natural order, including both the human
intellect and the physical cosmos. Hence,
natural theology typically stands in contrast to
revealed theology, discourse about God that
proceeds from an analysis of the teachings of
sacred scripture as a purported special kind of
revelation from God.
Origins in Western Philosophy
Natural theology originated among Pre-Socratic
philosophers in the 6th century BCE in their
effort to understand plurality and change as
fundamental features of the cosmos. The most
elaborate arguments are found in Aristotles
Physics and Metaphysics.
Natural theology was appropriated by the Jewish
and Christian religious traditions beginning
around the 3rd century CE and subsequently also
by Islam shortly after its emergence in the 7th
century. Arguments for Gods existence were
widely discussed throughout the medieval period,
roughly from the time of St. Augustine (4th-5th
century) to the beginnings of the European
Renaissance in the 14th/15th century.
In the modern period, natural theology has been
endorsed by the Catholic Christian tradition and
many streams of Protestant Christianity. It has
also been the subject of enduring philosophical
exploration, as is reflected in the works of the
great modern philosophers, e.g., Descartes,
Leibniz, Hume, and Kant. Kants critique of
natural theology in the 18th century and the rise
of Darwinism in the 19th century generated
significant skepticism about natural theology
that continued until natural theology re-emerged
in the middle of the 20th century as the result
of developments in both philosophy and the
sciences, especially cosmology.
The Classical Design Argument
If, therefore, the products of nature are better
than those of the crafts and if the crafts do
nothing without the use of reason, then nature
too cannot be held to be devoid of reason. When
you look at a statue or a painting, you know that
craftsmanship was applied. . .when you gaze on a
sundial or a waterclock, you understand that the
time is told as a result of craft and not the
result of chance. So what sense does it make to
think that the cosmos, which contains these very
crafts and their craftsmen and all else besides,
is devoid of deliberative ability and reason?
(Cicero, De Natura Deorum, 2.87)
  • The Stoic Argument
  • Whatever is ordered is intelligible.
  • Whatever is intelligible is a mind or the work of
  • So
  • (3) Whatever is ordered is a mind or the work of
  • (4) The cosmos is ordered.
  • So
  • (5) The cosmos is mind or the work of

The Design Argument
John Ray (1628-1705)
William Derham (1657-1735)
William Paley (1743-1805)
The Watchmaker
A watch is an intricate and complex system
well-suited to the task of measuring time.
We regard the watch as the product of some
intelligent being on account of its complexity
and functionality.
Living organisms are intricate and complex
systems well suited to the tasks of reproduction
and survival.
We should conclude that all living organisms
originate from some intelligent being.
The Analogical Organismic Design Argument
The natural world has been designed by some
The natural world exhibits complexity and
Similarity between objects of human contrivance
and the natural world.
Objects of human contrivance exhibit complexity
and purpose.
Objects of human contrivance have been designed
by some intelligence.
The Basic Argument Stated
  • Watches are produced by intelligent design.
  • Organisms are similar to watches to degree p
  • p
  • Organisms were produced by intelligent design.

P represents the degree of similarity between
watches and organisms and it also represents the
probability of the conclusion (below the double
line) given the two statements (premises) above
the double line. The greater the similarity
between watches and organisms, the greater the
probability that organisms were produced by
intelligent design.
David Humes Critique
David Hume (1711-1776)
In his famous Dialogues on Natural Religion,
David Hume launched what is arguably the first
and most well known systematic attack on the
design argument for Gods existence. Cleanthes
the advocate of the Paley-style design
argument Demea an advocate of an alternate
methodology, the cosmological argument, which
seeks to prove Gods existence the fact of the
universes existence, rather than its design
features. Philo the skeptic (more or less
Humes own voice in the dialogue).
Philos Weak Analogy Objection
  • The design argument is an analogical argument and
    thus requires a degree of similarity between
    human artifacts and the universe that we are
    not warranted in assuming.
  • Philo speaks of features of the universe, though
    he switches at different points to more local
    phenomena associated with organisms.

Cleanthess Basic Argument (C1) Houses are the
product of intelligent design. Therefore, it is
probable that (C2) The Universe is the product
of intelligent design.
Philos Formulation of the Analogical
Argument (1) Object A has some property P. (2)
Object A and object B are overall similar to some
degree N. Therefore (3) Object B has property
P. Philo argues that the probability of (3) is
directly proportional to the value assigned to N.
The greater the similarity between A and B, the
greater the probability that B has property P
based on the fact that A has property P.
Cleanthess argument more precisely must take
this form (P1) Houses have the property of
being produced by intelligent being. (P2) Houses
and the universe are overall very similar to each
other. Therefore it is probable that (C3) The
Universe has the property of being produced by
intelligent design. Philo rejects (P2) and
presents the following counter argument (P1)
Houses have the property of being produced by
intelligent design. (P2) Houses and the Universe
are NOT overall similar. Therefore, it is
improbable that (C3) The Universe has the
property of being produced by intelligent design.
I. Philos Argument for (P2)
Dissimilitude Houses and the Universe are
dissimilar because (a) we can observe houses
being made and thereby link them to their causes
through the constant conjunction of cause and
effect, but (b) since the Universe is unique we
have no basis to link it to any cause. II.
Philos Defense of (P2) We are not warranted
in concluding that the cause of the whole
universe is overall similar to the parts of the
universe exhibiting reason or intelligence as
their mode of operation. This is a fallacious
inference (fallacy of composition) attributing to
the whole what is characteristic of only selected
parts of an imperfectly known universe.
A Likelihood Formulation of the Intelligent
Design Argument
  • Likelihoodism is one approach to confirmation
    theory, that is, the study of formal features of
    evidence assessment.
  • The central principle of Likelihoodism is the Law
    of Likelihood
  • Evidence e favors hypothesis h1 over h2 just
    if the probability of e is greater given h1 than
    it is given h2.
  • Pr(e h1) gt Pr(e h2)

The Likelihood of a Hypothesis
  • To speak of the Likelihood of a hypothesis is
    to speak of how probable the hypothesis makes an
    observation, not how probable the observation
    makes the hypothesis (i.e., the so-called
    posterior probability of a hypothesis).
  • The likelihood of a hypothesis can be very high
    (even unity), even if the probability of the
    hypothesis itself is very low.
  • Law of Likelihood doesnt tell us what we should
    believe. It tells us what the evidence says,
    specifically whether evidence favors one
    hypothesis over another competing hypothesis.

Likelihood Formulation of the Intelligent Design
  • Paleys central claim can be construed as the
    probability of complex adaptations (A) is greater
    given intelligent design (ID) than it is given
    chance (C).
  • Pr(A ID) gt Pr(A C)
  • The argument does not say the existence of an
    intelligent designer is probable, only that
    complex adaptations provide evidence that favors
    the intelligent design hypothesis over the chance

Paleys Watch Argument
  • A watch has features G1 . . . Gn.
  • Pr(the watch has features G1 . . . Gn chance)
  • Pr(the watch has features G1 . . . Gn
    intelligent design) gt tiny.
  • The law of likelihood
  • ___________________________________________
  • The watchs having features G1 . . .Gn favors
    intelligent design over chance.

Paleys Organismic Argument
  • The eye has features F1 . . . Fn.
  • Pr(the eye has features F1 . . . Fn chance)
  • Pr(the eye has features F1 . . . Fn intelligent
    design) gt tiny.
  • The law of likelihood
  • ___________________________________________
  • The eyes having features F1 . . .Fn favors
    intelligent design over chance.

Strengths of the Likelihood Argument
  • It does not depend on a strong resemblance
    between watches and organisms. So its immune to
    Humes weak-analogy objection.
  • The conclusion is modest the evidence favors
    intelligent design over chance.

Three Critical Responses to the Likelihood
Organismic Design Argument
  • Superior Hypothesis Objection
  • Paley was correct that
  • Pr(A ID) gt Pr(A C), but Paley could not have
    known that
  • Pr(A Darwinian evolution) gtgt (A ID)
  • While the phenomenon of complex adaptation
    evidentially favors intelligent design over
    chance, complex adaptation greatly favors
    Darwinian evolution over intelligent design.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) succeeded in showing
that complex forms of life could evolve from
simpler forms of life through the biological law
of natural selection operating on random
variations thrown up by nature. Once this is
filled out into a more robust theory of
evolution, the data, including complex
adaptations, are not so surprising.
  • Falsification Objection
  • While the first critical response depends on the
    merits of Darwinian evolution, there is a second
    criticism that does not.
  • Stephen J. Gould has argued that intelligent
    design leads us to expect that the world would
    not have features that it actually does have. So
    its a bad theory, quite independent of how good
    of a theory Darwinian evolution is.
  • Example the Pandas thumb (wrist spur bone) is
    a very inefficient tool. An intelligent designer
    surely could have and would have come up with a
    better anatomical structure for Pandas to acquire
    and eat their food.

Combining First and Second Objections
  • Gould in fact combines the first and second
  • Perhaps. . .
  • Pr(Complex adaptation Intelligent design) gt
    (Complex adaptation Chance),
  • But the relevant point would be
  • Pr(Imperfect adaptation Darwinian evolution) gtgt
    (Imperfect adaptation Intelligent design)
  • Imperfect adaptations are to be expected given
    Darwinian evolution, but they are not to be
    expected given the hypothesis of intelligent

Third Objection
  • Inscrutable Predictive Power Objection
  • Goulds objection depends on the assumption that
    a designer would have had the power to prevent
    the Panda from having a wrist spur bone and would
    have had the goal of not giving this device to
    the Panda.
  • But . . . Gould is not warranted in attributing
    to the designer this ability and goal, for there
    is no way to independently test such assumptions.
  • So theres no justification for claiming that the
    Pandas thumb is evidence against an
    intelligent designer.

Problem for Intelligent Design
  • The criticism of Gould also applies to the
    intelligent design advocate.
  • If Gould is not justified to claim a low
    likelihood for the intelligent design hypothesis,
    the intelligent design advocate is not justified
    in claiming a likelihood for it that is superior
    to Darwinian evolution.
  • Why? Were not justified in any claim about the
    likelihood of intelligent design.

Returning to Paley. . . .
  • In the watch argument, the crucial premise is
  • Pr(the watch has features G1 . . . Gn
    intelligent design) gt tiny.
  • How do we know this?
  • Only because we operate with independently
    testable assumptions about the goals and
    abilities of human designers.
  • Paley knows that human designers have the
    required abilities and goals that make the
    features of the watch probable.

The Problem of Inscrutable Predictive Power
  • In the organismic design argument, the parallel
    crucial premise is
  • Pr(the eye has features F1 . . . Fn intelligent
    design) gt tiny.
  • How do we know this?
  • Unlike human designers and watches, we do not
    know what the abilities and goals of an
    intelligent designer would be for features of
    organisms. Some such assumptions would result in
    the probability of the observational data being
    zero in other cases, unity. But none of the
    assumptions is independently testable.

  • The hypothesis of an intelligent designer
    predicts nothing about the features of organisms.
  • It can only make such predictions if we add the
    appropriate kinds of auxiliary assumptions, but
    none of these auxiliary assumptions is
    (presently) independently testable.
  • What is the comparative likelihood of
  • Pr(complex adaptation intelligent design)?
  • Who knows? Its simply inscrutable.

The Argument Defeated
  • We cannot justifiably claim that complex
    adaptation is evidence for intelligent design.

Raising David Hume. . . .
  • Another Humean Objection
  • We Cannot Infer that God is the Designer

  • Even if we are permitted to infer that the
    universe is designed, we cannot conclude that God
    is the designer.
  • Philos first weak analogy objection depended
    on an assumption about causation, namely that we
    cannot postulate unobservable causes of
    observational phenomena, for cause and effect
    requires the constant conjunction of observable
  • Philos second its not God objection depends
    on another principle of causation, the principle
    of causal proportionality.

Principle of Causal Proportionality We must not
ascribe to a cause anything beyond what is
minimally required to account for the effect.
Theistic arguments violate this principle since
they attempt to explain a finite, imperfect
effect in terms of an infinite, perfect cause.
David Hume (1711-1776)
Infinite, Perfect Being
Finite, Imperfect Universe
  1. We cannot infer that the designer is infinite in
    power, knowledge, and goodness because only a
    being with limited power, knowledge, and goodness
    is required to produce a finite universe.
  2. We cannot infer that the designer is perfect
    because an imperfect designer would suffice to
    produce the universe, especially since (a) the
    universe exhibits many imperfections and (b) we
    know of many cases where designers are very
    imperfect (indeed, even stupid!) and yet despite
    this produce complex, useful, and beautiful
  3. We cannot infer that the designer is one because
    many agents working together or individually
    would suffice to produce the universe.

  • Philos second objection highlights the range
    of possible designer scenarios that would suffice
    for explaining design.
  • Given that we have no principled way of
    selecting the more probable scenario from among
    the competitors, we cant even infer that God
    probably exists.

Humes Dilemma
  • Humes challenges to the design argument may be
    succinctly stated as a logical dilemma
  • 1. Either the designer of the universe is very
    much unlike the universe or the designer of the
    universe is very much like the universe.
  • 2. If the designer of the universe is very much
    unlike the universe, then the degree of
    dissimilitude between the designer and the
    universe prevents actually inferring a designer
    of the universe.
  • 3. If the designer is very much like the
    universe, then the degree of similitude between
    the designer and the universe prevents inferring
    that God is the designer of the universe.
  • So
  • 4. Either we cannot infer a designer or we cannot
    infer that this designer is God.

I have no need for that hypothesis. -
Pierre-Simon Laplace Laplaces answer to the
question posed to him by Napoleon Boneparte as to
what place God had in his theory of the formation
of the solar system.
Is there a need to appeal to God to explain the