I believe in science! Why do I need religion?!

Posted on April 24, 2012 By

I was amused to discover the following statement at an atheist website: …I do believe that is why science will eventually do away with the need for religion. Our available information grows at astounding rates, even the most out of touch person today knows more about the world and the universe than the most intelligent of people 1,000 years ago. Science will only continue to expand while religion will only continue to recede. The need and usefulness of religion, not to even mention credibility, is shrinking and baring wildly unusual events, it will continue on that progression. And if I were to encounter such a comment in the course of everyday conversation, my off-the-cuff reply would be, “What an interesting—but self-defeating—RELIGION you have!” Atheists are fond of depicting the God debate as a conflict between science and religion…and of declaring that they have scientific views, but no religious views. But this is nothing more than clever sleight-of-hand.

“The so-called warfare between science and religion,” writes the eminent historian Jacques Barzun, should actually “be seen as the warfare between two philosophies and perhaps two faiths.”

The God debate is a conflict of religion versus religion, or philosophy versus philosophy…not of science versus religion. “The so-called warfare between science and religion,” writes the eminent historian Jacques Barzun, should actually “be seen as the warfare between two philosophies and perhaps two faiths.” What sort of religious beliefs do atheists hold? A prominent religious belief within atheist thought is known by philosophers and psychologists as “scientism,” which holds that the only kind of knowledge that humans can have is scientific knowledge (I also discuss scientism in If the Evidence for God Is So Strong, Why Are So Many Smart People Unconvinced?). Philosopher Mikael Stenmark discusses the problems with this religious view in his book Scientism: Science, Ethics and Religion. As Stenmark points out, the key problem with the premise that “we can only know what science can tell us,” is that this very premise is something that science cannot tell us. It is a self-defeating premise:

“The problem is that the scientistic [not to be confused with “scientific”] belief that we can only know what science can tell us seems to be something that science cannot tell us. How can one set up a scientific experiment to demonstrate the truth of T1 [“T1” is Stenmark’s symbol for the premise, “The only kind of knowledge that we can have is scientific knowledge.”] What methods in, for instance, biology or physics are suitable for such a task? Well, hardly those methods that make it possible for scientists to discover and explain electrons, protons, genes, survival mechanisms and natural selection. Furthermore, it is not because the content of this belief is too small, too distant, or too far in the past for science to determine its truth-value (or probability). Rather it is that beliefs of this sort are not subject to scientific inquiry. We cannot come to know T1 by appeal to science alone. T1 is rather a view in the theory of knowledge and is, therefore, a piece of philosophy and not a piece of science. But if this is the case, then T1 is self-refuting. If T1 is true, then it is false. T1 falsifies itself.”

Regarding Stenmark’s above comments, just think about it: How could a statement such as, “The only kind of knowledge that we can have is scientific knowledge,” be verified scientifically? With a chemistry experiment utilizing a bunsen burner and test tubes? With a physics experiment utilizing a particle accelerator? Because the belief that, “The only kind of knowledge that we can have is scientific knowledge” CAN NEVER ITSELF BE SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE, it is a self-refuting belief. Or take the premise, “No belief can be accepted as true and rational unless it can be known by science or quantified and tested empirically.” How can that belief be known by science or quantified and tested empirically? It can’t, and therefore such a premise is self-refuting.

Einstein surely understood that scientific knowledge cannot be the only kind of knowledge, and that it must necessarily interact with religious/philosophical reasoning…which is why he said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Einstein surely understood that scientific knowledge cannot be the only kind of knowledge, and that it must necessarily interact with religious/philosophical reasoning…which is why he said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” So did many other crucial contributors to modern science…such as Max Planck (the Nobel Prize winning physicist who founded quantum theory), which is why he said, “There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other.” Stenmark continues by citing Oxford University philosopher Richard Swinburne:

“For an ultimate explanation we need an explanation at the highest level of why those laws rather than any other one operated. The laws of evolution are no doubt consequences of laws of chemistry governing the organic matter of which animals are made. And the laws of chemistry hold because fundamental laws of physics hold. But why just those fundamental laws of physics rather than any others? If the laws of physics did not have the consequence that some chemical arrangement would give rise to life, or that there would be random variations by offspring from characteristics of parents, and so on, there would be no evolution by natural selection. So, even given that there are laws of nature (i.e. that material objects have the same powers and liabilities as each other), why just those laws?”

“But since evolutionary theory does not provide us with an answer to this kind of question, the mystery of our existence is not yet solved and evolution is not a way to get complex designs out of nothing. Both naturalism and theism, on the other hand, provide answers to this question. Therefore, theism does not compete with science, but it does compete with naturalism. Naturalists maintain that it is merely an accident that these laws happen to operate and that the primitive soup of matter had the particular constitution it had. The best ultimate explanation [according to naturalism] of the constitution and general order of nature is that it is a work of pure chance.”

Here, Stenmark forces to the surface one of the core religious/philosophical beliefs that underlies the atheist worldview: Natural or physical laws can be cited as the final explanation for things. But the problem with such a view is immediately clear: Where did these laws come from, and why these laws instead of entirely different laws? Theism and naturalism are competing philosophical/religious explanations for why these laws exist and why they are as they are. Naturalism (in which atheism is rooted) answers the two above questions with “they just are”. In other words, naturalism does not explain why a universe which does not have an intelligent source would be imbued with physical laws. If the universe is not the product of intelligence, what compels matter to so consistently follow physical laws (or “regularities,” if you prefer)?

How can mindless matter be compelled to do anything, much less follow a law? Theism, conversely, answers the above questions by stating that laws are the result of a lawgiver (God). Moreover, theism asserts that matter is nothing more than a manifestation of consciousness (God’s consciousness), which is the view most compatible with modern physics, as I demonstrate in God Is Real…Why Modern Physics Has Discredited Atheism. Robert Boyle, the founder of modern chemistry, summarized the theistic explanation of why matter follows physical laws succinctly when he said: “The nature of this or that body is but the law of God prescribed to it [and] to speak properly, a law [is] but a notional rule of acting according to the declared will of a superior.” [italics added] Or as James Joule, the propounder of the first law of thermodynamics, for whom the thermal unit of the “Joule” was named, put it: “It is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.”

The questions of where natural and physical laws come from, and why they exist as they do, are not scientific questions. Rather they are ontological questions.

The questions of where natural and physical laws come from, and why they exist as they do, are not scientific questions. Rather they are ontological questions. The methods of science can assist in answering these questions, but are not equipped to ever answer such questions without the help of extra-scientific, and therefore philosophical/religious reasoning. But put aside for a moment the questions of where the laws of physics (or chemistry, thermodynamics, etc.) came from, and why they are as they are. Declaring that physical laws can cause or create things is a bizarre religious belief, not a scientific stance.

The rules of chess do not cause chess games to happen….personal agents (people) do. Nor do the rules of chess determine the outcome of chess games. Similarly, the laws of physics cannot cause anything physical to happen because they are descriptive and predictive, not creative or causative. The laws of physics describe and predict what will happen when one ball strikes another on a billiard table, but they certainly do not cause one ball to strike another. And they also certainly do not create billiard balls or tables. (Note: I also discuss this topic in Who Is Playing Make Believe? (Atheists or Theists)) Oxford University mathematician John Lennox critiques the reasoning of one of the most prominent members of the scientistic religion, the atheist physicist Stephen Hawking, in his book God and Stephen Hawking. Specifically, Lennox addresses Hawking’s contention that the universe was created by the laws of physics:

“A supernatural being or God is an agent who does something. In the case of the God of the Bible, he is a personal agent. Dismissing such an agent, Hawking ascribes creative power to physical law; but physical law is not an agent. Hawking is making a classic category mistake by confusing two entirely different kinds of entity: physical law and personal agency. The choice he sets before us is between false alternatives. He has confused two levels of explanation: agency and law. God is an explanation of the universe, but not the same type of explanation as that which is given by physics.”

“Suppose, to make matters clearer, we replace the universe by a jet engine and then are asked to explain it. Shall we account for it by mentioning the personal agency of its inventor, Sir Frank Whittle? Or shall we follow Hawking: dismiss personal agency, and explain the jet engine by saying that it arose naturally from physical law? It is clearly nonsensical to ask people to choose between Frank Whittle and science as an explanation for the jet engine. For it is not a question of either/or. It is self-evident that we need both levels of explanation in order to give a complete description.” “It is also obvious that the scientific explanation neither conflicts nor competes with the agent explanation: they complement one another. It is the same with explanations of the universe: God does not conflict or compete with the laws of physics as an explanation. God is actually the ground of all explanation, in the sense that he is the cause in the first place of there being a world for the laws of physics to describe.”

Atheists would have you believe that they can go from a scientific theory such as, “An apparently mindless (Darwinian) mechanism known as random mutation and natural selection is responsible for the diversification of life,” to a philosophical (and more specifically, ontological) conclusion such as, “There is no God,” without engaging in extra-scientific, and therefore philosophical/religious reasoning. But this is transparently false because “there is no God” is a philosophical/religious conclusion. And by declaring all of their reasoning to be “scientific,” some atheists are trying to conceal their philosophical/religious beliefs so that these beliefs are not subjected to logical scrutiny…precisely because their philosophical reasoning cannot withstand logical scrutiny.

Let us bring to the surface the philosophical/religious reasoning that leads from the above scientific theory, to the above ontological conclusion…so as to expose it to logical scrutiny:

1) An apparently mindless (Darwinian) mechanism known as random mutation and natural selection is responsible for the diversification of life from a common ancestor.

2) Because this mechanism for the diversification of life is apparently mindless, we can extrapolate mindlessness into the origin of life from non-living matter, even though non-living matter has neither genes to mutate nor reproductive offspring to naturally select. (Please read my posts titled Why Evolution Cannot Be Used to Rationalize Atheism and Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God for a more in-depth exploration of this topic).

3) And because this mechanism for the diversification of life is apparently mindless, we can further extrapolate to a mindless source for this mechanism.

4) And because this mechanism is apparently mindless, we can still further extrapolate to a mindless source for the physical laws that make this mechanism work.

5) Because physical laws can create things and cause things to happen [or so says the religion of scientism], we do not need to cite an intelligent source for the universe.

6) Therefore, there is no need for such a being as God.

In case the reader is wondering if atheists are really capable of such extrapolation gone wild, consider the atheist biologist Richard Dawkins’ statement in his book The Blind Watchmaker that he “could not imagine being an atheist at any time before 1859, when Darwin’s Origin of Species was published.” Apparently Dawkins believes that a scientific theory which discusses the diversification of life through random mutation and natural selection can be applied to everything…whether or not the mutation of genes and the natural selection of reproductive offspring are involved. Now that, folks, is a bizarre religion. Nancy Pearcey provides excellent commentary on this subject matter in her book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity:

“Most ordinary people hold an idealized image of science as impartial, unbiased empirical investigation that attends strictly to evidence. That’s the official definition found in the standard science textbook, bristling with objective- sounding words like observation and testing. The problem is that, in practice, science has been co-opted into the camp of the philosophical naturalists, so that it typically functions as little more than applied naturalism. How do we know that? Because the only theories regarded as acceptable are naturalistic ones. Consider these words by the well-known science popularizer Richard Dawkins: ‘Even if there were no actual evidence in favor of the Darwinian theory . . . we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories.’ Why? Because it is naturalistic.

Here’s the same argument, flipped over. A Kansas State University professor published a letter in the prestigious journal Nature stating:” “‘Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.’ Pause for a moment and let that sink in: Even if there is no evidence in favor of Darwinism, and if all the evidence favors Intelligent Design, still we are not allowed to consider it in science. Clearly, the issue is not fundamentally a matter of evidence at all, but of a prior philosophical [or religious] commitment.”

“A few more examples drive the point home. During the Ohio controversy, one of the drafters of the controversial state guidelines wrote a letter to Physics Today, insisting that, in order to be considered at all, ‘the first criterion is that any scientific theory must be naturalistic.’ In other words, unless a theory is naturalistic, it will be ruled out before any consideration of its merits. The editor in chief of Scientific American then entered the fray, stating that ‘a central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism—it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms.’ But who says we have to accept naturalism as a ‘central tenet’ of science? As one professor I know retorted, ‘Who made up that rule? I don’t remember voting on it.’”

So, to anyone who says, “We must strive to keep religion out of science,” the only proper reply can be, “Too late… much of the scientific community is already using science as a promotional tool for a religion known as naturalism.” In conclusion, the statement “I have chosen science in favor of religion because science has a better track record for providing truth,” is every bit as meaningless and absurd as the statement, “I have chosen spending money in favor of obtaining money because spending money has a better track record of meeting my material needs than obtaining money.” Just as obtaining money and spending it are necessary parts of the economic process, obtaining data (through science), and then providing meaning to that data by interpreting it (through religion/philosophy), are necessary parts of the human knowledge building process. ————- In Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God, I bring to light the bizarre atheist religious beliefs surrounding the origin of life. These beliefs include, but are not limited to, intervention from space aliens and a piggyback ride on crystals. Return visitors to this website will note that I have brought this up several times before. Unfortunately, the temptation to bring it up yet again was overwhelming, and I was unable to resist.  

  1. Walt says:

    I read the statement that you quoted completely differently – in my mind there is a huge difference between metaphysics/epistemology/belief about God on the one hand and religion on the other. It is certainly possible that the author of that comment meant “God” when he or she wrote “religion,” but the fact is that the comment was about the receding usefulness of religion. I’m just curious if you see an important difference here.

    • Well, if the author meant “God,” he or she should have written that. The distinction that you are pointing out is obvious to you and I, but in the media and common parlance, belief in God is most often considered “religious” and disbelief in God is considered “not religious.” But one of the main points of the essay is that this is a false distinction.

      • Walt says:

        I guess the point I was making is minor in the sense that it’s certainly not difficult to find an atheist making a claim about God leaving the picture as science progresses that would still give you a strong reason to write this post. I think my point is major in another sense, however, because the individual quote you started with was specifically talking about religion. You picked up immediately on the God Debate, but I read the quotation as dealing with religion, not necessarily with God. It is an important distinction that I know you understand well, I just think that the foundation for the post would be stronger had you picked a quote that was dealing with the issue you go on to write about. Anyway, it’s certainly possible I guess that the author was talking about God and simply being imprecise. Thanks for the post and the response. Take care.

  2. Bobmo says:

    Scott, how would you respond to the atheist who says the following?

    “Okay, I agree that denying the religious component to my belief in science is self-defeating because its underlying assumptions cannot be proven by science. However, it seems that science does have a better track record than religion as a source of truth. If presented with a scientific proposition and a religious proposition, I’m taking the scientific proposition.”

    • A person making such a statement has missed the point entirely…they still don’t get it. It is completely impossible to have only scientific beliefs and no extra-scientific, and therefore religious/philosophical, beliefs. Therefore, the statement “I have chosen science in favor of religion because science has a better track record as a source of truth” is every bit as absurd as the statement “I have chosen spending money in favor of obtaining money because spending money has a better track record for meeting my material needs than obtaining it.” Both obtaining money and spending money are necessary parts of the economic process. Similarly, both obtaining data (through science, for example) and interpreting that data (through religion/philosophy) are both necessary parts of the process of human knowledge building. One can no more choose between science and religion than one can choose between obtaining money and spending money.

      There is no such thing as scientific data that comes with built-in interpretation. A pile of scientific data is utterly meaningless until that data has been given meaning by processing it with religious/philosophical reasoning.

      This gets back to the persistent confusion of scientific and ontological questions that is so prevalent in atheist thought, and which I discuss in my essay titled The God of the Gaps: Why God and Science are Not Competing Explanations.

  3. Bobmo says:

    Scott, thank you for your well-reasoned response. I like your analogy comparing the gathering and interpreting of scientific data with obtaining and spending money. I’m going to use that! :-)

    Atheists certainly do confuse the scientific and the ontological. They need answers born of clear thinking such as yours.

    • Bombo, thanks very much (and thanks for your participation at the website). Please note that I have added a paragraph to the end of the essay which serves to answer the question you presented, and also serves to further clarify the main point of the essay.

      I will take the analogy one step further here in the comments section: A person who thinks they can spend money without bothering to obtain money will soon become bankrupt. Similarly, a person who thinks they can reason purely scientifically (without the involvement of religion and/or philosophy) is both intellectually and spiritually bankrupt.


  4. Gary Bennett says:

    Sadly, this is the same tired old religionist hogwash. Science is NOT a religion (despite what Barzun implies). I don’t believe in science, I accept those findings that have been verified. Religion is a myth — after over 3,000 years, no one has yet provided any proof that YHWH/”God”/Allah exists. All I want is for him/her/it to make an appearance and announce his/her/its existence. Is that too much to ask of a so-called supreme being? Evolution happened. There is no intelligent designer (make him/her/it show his/her/its face!). The electron has the same mass whether measured by a Buddhist, a Christian, a Hindu, a Jew, or a Muslim. Sadly, however, their religious revelations are at odds. Finally, if YHWH/”God”/Allah are so all-powerful, why are most of the people on this planet of other faiths?
    P.S. There is only way of really knowing: science (observation and verification). All else is wishful thinking!

    • RATIONAL DUDE says:

      IRRATIONALITY: In Which RationalDude responds to GaryBennett’s gross errors.
      The first assertion is that science is not a religion. This is obviously true, but Scott Youngren is stating that Scientism is a religion. Scientism is the thesis that science is the ultimate standard of truth. As this thesis is expounded only at the end of the post, it shall be addressed at the end of this response.

      The second assertion is that Religion is an unfounded myth. “[A]fter over 3,000 years, no one has yet provided any proof that YHWH/”God”/Allah exists.” This is one of the stupider objections of modern atheism.

      Duns Scotus’ Cosmological Argument With Elaboration
      1) It is possible that a First Cause exists.
      2) Anything that exists is either contingent, or necessary.
      3) Contingent things are actualized.
      4) The First Cause cannot be actualized.
      Elaboration 5) (1) The First Cause cannot be conceived as A) Necessarily nonexistent. (3&4) The First Cause cannot be conceived as B) Contingently Existing. (2) The First Cause can only be conceived as C) Necessarily existing.
      6) A First Cause exists necessarily.

      At this point, GaryBennett demands that the supreme being show their face. Whatever is meant here is uncertain, as it is accepted among the properly informed (Hint, Hint) that God, if God exists, is a spirit, and therefore has no face; being immaterial, God cannot “show him/her/itself”, as to be visible is to be material. A more charitable interpretation is that Garybennett wants God to give direct evidence of God’s existing. This shall be addressed through the simple refutation that will be given to his fourth assertion.

      Garybennett’s third assertion is based on denial of an intelligent designer. GarryBennett asserts “evolution happened,” making the definition of evolution obvious: Evolution is the thesis that life descended from a first organism by completely unaided, unintelligent processes. Arguably, so defined, evolution is false. The existence of an intelligent designer shall now be proven:

      Teleological Argument
      1) A cause must have the potential to actualize its effect.
      2) Matter is naturally non-goal-oriented.
      3) Whatever has is goal-oriented is designed.
      4) Organs are goal-oriented.
      5) (1&2) Unaided matter does not have the potential to actualize design.
      6) (3&4) Organs are designed.
      7) (4&5) Unaided matter could not have produced organs.
      8) It follows that an intelligent being designed organs.

      Firstly, no idiot would believe that the existence of a watch proves that watches can form from unaided processes. To demand that the designer of the watch must reveal themselves to convince one that the watch is designed is sheer stupidity.
      Second, one cannot go about and assert that evolution refutes the argument. What premises does evolution prove false? None, really, as the Empirically Defensible postulates of evolution do not demand that life form by unaided processes, even if we grant that they are CONSISTENT with this belief. The remaining postulates of evolutionary synthesis are not science, they are metaphysics.
      Thirdly, premises (1&3) are intuitive, so that denying them is less plausible than affirming them.
      Fourthly, all premises are empirically supported. Every purposeful thing that we DO know the origin of, has been designed by intelligent beings, and so forth. Therefore, only two options are open for those who deny the conclusion: A) Show that it is incoherent to believe that an intelligent being designed life. B) Discover actual data which overturns one of the premises.

      At this point, GaryBennett engages in more of his illogical rhetoric, which has been spoon-fed to him by the Overlords: Sam Harris, Victor Stenger, and Richard Dawkins.
      GaryBennett is right to notice that truth is exclusive, but ers in commenting on the nature of revelation. As has been explained elsewhere (infinitely many times), the quality of belief is more important than the quantity of belief. Showing people that God exists through His own power does not incite the proper quality of belief.

      The fifth assertion marks the end of this essay, and thank goodness! As has been promised, the thesis of Scientism shall now be addressed. GaryBennett said: “P.S. There is only way of really knowing: science (observation and verification). All else is wishful thinking!” The first and foremost observation is that the assertion is self-referentially absurd. By GaryBennett’s own confession, it is wishful thinking to believe that science is the only true way to gain knowledge; the statement itself cannot be determined scientifically. However, the assertion has other defeating errors which destroy the proposition.
      Other branches of knowledge obviously exist! History is a branch of knowledge, and is not a science. Science is about generalities, history is about unrepeatable events. Only one counter-example is needed, but philosophy is demonstrably a branch of knowledge.
      Science is based on non-scientific principles! Science features a number of postulates: 1) The physical world is intelligible. 2) The physical world is empirically knowable. 3) Science assumes certain philosophical stances (realism, instrumentalism, etc). 4) Science assumes a certain theory of knowledge (anything but strict Empiricism OR strict Rationalism is accepted these days). We have to know something about the world is like (Metaphysics), or we can’t get science off the ground. One cannot use science to prove these principles, as these principles are what science is based on: they must be assumed as true in order to determine if they are true.
      Science does not allow us to know everything. Science can describe the physical world, but it cannot explain the physical world. Everybody knows THAT gravity exists, and we don’t need science to prove it, what science does is describe HOW gravity works. Unless we have a way of explaining things within science, this simply will not be a valid epistemic position.

      • nick says:

        Rational Dude likes to refer to Gary Bennett in the third person for some reason. Is that polite or a little condescending?

        Rational Dude’s various arguments are less sound than he asserts when he prefaces each. Proofs follow unarguably sound premises and proofs are rarely considered bulletproof in the world of philosophy.

        “The existence of an intelligent designer shall now be proven:” A somewhat cavalier statement followed by a series of premises that seem rather convincing, if indeed each premise can be demonstrated to be sound. So can they?In my opinion, Rational Dude has a series of arguments designed to persuade, rather than a demonstrable proof. Rational Dude claims: “Only two options are open for those who deny the conclusion: A) Show that it is incoherent to believe that an intelligent being designed life. B) Discover actual data which overturns one of the premises.”

        Teleological Argument, Premise 2) Matter is naturally non-goal-oriented.

        Is it? Could you demonstrate this in order that the premise may be accepted? Each premise must be demonstrable and sound in order for it to provide the proof you argue. Inanimate matter is non-goal oriented. This may be true, but to be honest I’m not even sure that this is sometimes true, let alone universally true. Matter does not always exist in an inanimate state. If we look out across the universe, it is in flux. Matter collides and reacts with other matter. It drifts through space, it gravitates towards itself and creates objects, phenonemon, rocks, moons, planets, clouds, stars, galaxies and black holes. It is constantly on the move and both creates and destroys new things and worlds. Does it have direction and purpose? Are we able to tell from our tiny vantage point what the matter of all the universe is doing?
        You may or may not be right with your premise, but is it a solid universally demonstrable statement of fact? The fact that it is questionable renders it somewhat troublesome especially when building upon it to form a proof. Such ambiguity lowers your series of premises to the level of an ‘argument’ rather than a ‘proof’. One might argue that matter is full of purpose. From a different theistic perspective to what is argued in your post, one might say that, in fact, matter is full of purpose. Its purpose is to react, combine, energise, support, expand, provide and build the universe we see around us that is ultimately capable of supporting life. Its purpose is to provide the medium through which we are able to live and achieve consciousness. Such matter designed by an intelligent designer would be full of purpose. This purpose would also destroy premise 2 of your argument, yet this would also have transpired via the existence of intelligent design.

        What you have outlined in your comment is an argument worthy of consideration that might be possible, but a proof it is not. Premise 2 can be shown to be questionable, yet premise 3 can be questioned with equal measure.

        Premise 3) Whatever is goal-oriented is designed.

        An argument may be had over the definition of design wished to be used in this instance… I make the presumption that by ‘designed’, you mean, ‘by a designer’. If this is the case, I can think of several things that are goal oriented that lack a designer (of the definition I assume you mean).

        A goal oriented thing might be seen in many ways from simple to complex, but perhaps simplicity will provide the greatest illustration of a goal oriented process or object relevant to the statement you make. A goal might be seen as the end result of a process, or a section within a cycle, or perhaps the end of an exercise. There are various things we might consider to be goals. A goal might be the successful delivery of food to the stomach or the transfer of energy from the food through the stomach to the body, as with the example of organs that you mention. How about the delivery of water to crops? That seems like a good example of a goal. What about the end point of a journey, or a notable point along the way? We would usually consider this to be a goal.
        Put very simply, a river has a source and an estuary. An estuary is the end point of a river and would be the goal of the water on its journey down the river basin. You might also consider the goal of the river to be the fertilization of its basin. Two types of goal can be accredited to the river before going into further depth. Did an intelligent designer create the river and its processes, or did the intelligent designer create the universe such that matter would act naturally in such a way?

        There is no evidence that the river was created by anything other than a natural cycle of water, which is very well understood by geographers and geologists all over the world. So, either you would like to offer evidence that the river was specially created and is not natural, or perhaps you will concede that it is a natural process in our world. The first scenario (specially created river) would allow for premise 3 to be directly verified in this instance, however I see no evidence that the river is anything other than a natural occurance. The second scenario, in which the river is a natural process means that premise 3 can only at best be indirectly true. The river has goals in it yet was not designed independently, but perhaps the matter of the original universe was designed such that its properties would lead to such creative and productive processes. This seems like a plausible theistic argument, yet if this is to be true, then your 2nd premise is severely undermined. If such thought and design was built into the origin of the universe, then matter (H2O – the water cycle, in this instance) is full of purpose as it was made like that in the beginning. This would directly contradict your second premise.

        There are problems with the argument that you have outlined. These are a few brief thoughts that might offer some challenges to your assertions of proof.

        • RATIONAL DUDE says:

          I was trying to be both polite and condescending (if it really makes sense to be both). Polite because I try not to go too far with the deliberate condescension. Condescending to match his arrogance, and make a point of my own (which I likely failed to do).

          Allow me to make a clarification: A “proof” is based on a set of axioms/postulates, and derives conclusions from these first principles. I started with some premises which are more plausibly true than their denial, and derive the conclusion from it.

          In Defense of the Teleological Argument’s Second Premise:
          One of your objections is that sometimes matter acts in certain ways, am I interpreting this properly? You asked what if matter was supposed to behave as it does for our life-supporting universe, so I find it hard to interpret differently.
          Your question is definitely good, but I think it rests on a misunderstanding of “goal-oriented”. I could have used such a premise, and Premise #2 would still be valid. To be “goal-oriented” is to mean that something naturally sets its own goals. Even if matter itself has been purposed by another, it would not be naturally goal-oriented. It would be just as valid to say that organs are not goal-oriented, even though they have been given purpose.

          No, I could not demonstrate this, maybe the rocks beneath my home are plotting my downfall? We would not be able to know, as science can only measure objective material reality, not subjective experience. It is supported, however. I believe you will find the argument I will give for Two satisfying, though certainly not definitive.
          However, once clarified, I do expect a priori most people to accept this premise, as most people tend think of matter as “extension”, so would not treat pure matter as a thinking substance.
          Furthermore, to think of it otherwise, would be a rejection of materialism, and entails that the material world is God (unless we say that matter was created, in which case, Duns Scotus’ argument is confirmed). This is something that Gary Bennett seemed to find unacceptable. Maybe he would bite the bullet, but that is fine for me.

          I don’t this this would refute premise two, but it does show that I will need to rewrite it, to make it clearer.

          In Defense of the Teleological Argument’s Third Premise:
          I will acknowledge this as an example of things which have goals to perform, for the moment –my argument allows for other things to have purpose, just not be able to set its own goals.
          First, I must also acknowledge a semantic error you have brought to my attention. This will be corrected in the finalized form, and I think it will be more acceptable. I should have said Anything which is purposeful is designed –and consequently, premise four will have to be rewritten: organs have a purpose.
          Second, the argument does not demand that we reject Common Descent, because the argument also serves to outline distinction between the proximate and ultimate causes of things. This distinction will be useful in the given example, to see if it impacts the premise.

          In the case of the river, we have a noticeable distinction between the proximate cause (natural forces), and the ultimate cause (the intention behind producing a river). As my argument allows for this, we have not found a serious objection within.
          Is the river truly goal-oriented? I’ve fixed my error, and the river does not set its own goals, so defined. In light of the previous error, the question is reworded accordingly: “Is the river inherently purposeful?” If it is, then, given that the premises are true, it follows that the river was designed.
          The river’s proximate cause was natural; but if it was intended for a river to be produced for some reason, then it follows that its ultimate cause designed it. Natural forces are just the modus operandi of the ultimate cause.

          The Argument, Corrected, Revised, and Elaborated:
          Def.1) Goal-oriented: To set goals for oneself or for another. If my existence were not intended, but I set my own goals, I am goal-oriented. If my existence were intended, my origin is goal-oriented.
          Def.2) Primarily Purposeful: To have an intended goal, set by the ultimate cause. A watch is supposed to tell time, so has Primary Purpose.
          Def.3) Derived Purpose: To have a goal, set by some third party. For example, if a stick was not intended to do anything, but a chimp used it to catch and eat termites, this would be Derived Purpose.
          Def.4) Designed: Ultimately, and intentionally, produced by an intelligent cause.
          1) A cause must have the ability to actualize its effect.
          2) Unaided matter is naturally non-goal-oriented.
          Proof of Two
          A) Unaided matter has no causal agency; that is, it can cause things to happen, but not of its own volition.
          B) To be goal-oriented assumes that volition can be expressed.
          C) Unaided matter cannot is not goal-oriented.

          3) Whatever had Primary Purpose was designed, even if it lost this purpose.
          4) Organs had Primary Purpose.
          5) (1&2) Unaided matter does not have the ability to actualize its own designs.
          6) (3&4) Organs were designed.
          7) (5&6) Unaided matter did not design organs.
          8) (7) Organs were designed by an intelligent cause.
          I maintain that my clarification below the text is mostly sufficient. Any insufficiency now centers on Four. Allow me:
          Four is a tenet of biology, and doesn’t make sense on evolutionary synthesis. As a tenet of biology, if an organ was never meant to do something, we should not expect it to be there in the first place; it is a waste of resources; if it were adapted, it would have to have had an original purpose, or else it would not have existed for the above reason.
          I think this not only resolves any problems in the first argument, but also helps to clarify the original.

  5. Zia says:


    I think naturalists would obviously be unsettled if it could be shown that purpose was bestowed upon the world from an external agency, but do you think think naturalists would be unsettled if it could be shown that matter and energy, at any level, exhibit “goal-directedness?” It’s long, but I would read this:


    • RATIONAL DUDE says:

      If I understood the paper, then I don’t think it would lodge a serious problem with the argument I have presented, in its current form. A problem, but I don’t consider it serious right now. I might change my mind.
      If matter is capable of setting its own goals, then matter is the designer. Is that really a problem? Although it contradicts Premise Two, it also contradicts the thesis that the universe is purposeless. In that case, my general thesis, that the universe is purposeful, is confirmed.

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