We've moved!

Check out our new site at
and be sure to update your bookmarks.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Arguing God From Design

FROM RICHARD SWINBURNE, EMERITUS NOLLOTH PROFESSOR OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD: For at least 3,000 years, thinkers have argued that the orderliness of the universe shows that it was made and sustained by a creator God—in other words, it was designed. Here is my modern version of this argument.
Our world is a very orderly place. It is governed almost entirely by “laws of nature.” But “laws of nature” are simply statements about the powers and liabilities of things. Newton’s law of gravity, for example, states that every material body has the power to attract each and every other material body with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of their distance apart—and the liability always to exercise that power on every other material body in the universe. There is enormous uniformity in the behavior of material objects. In certain respects (such as those described by Newton’s law), they all behave in the same way, and then they fall into a few distinct kinds (electrons, protons, neutrons, etc.), all the members of which behave in the same way as each other in further respects.
Yet our universe is not just any simple orderly universe. Its laws and initial conditions (the distribution of matter-energy at the time of the big bang and the velocity of the bang) led to the evolution of humans. In almost any possible universe, each material object would behave in a very complicated way different from that of every other material object—and almost any other universe in which material objects behaved in simple ways would not have been able to lead to the evolution of humans. How can we explain the enormous human-producing coincidence?
An explanatory hypothesis is probably true insofar as it is simple and leads us to expect otherwise unexpected data. The hypothesis of theism is that there is a God that is an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free being. An omniscient being will know what things are good, and if this being is also perfectly free, will not be deterred by irrational desires from pursuing the good. Humans have a kind of goodness that even God does not possess: the power to choose between good and evil. So it is to be expected that a God will bring about humans, and so the necessary conditions for their existence. But we’ll only be able to choose to bring about good or evil if there are simple laws of nature that cause our actions to have predictable effects, and only if those laws are human-producing will we exist at all.
Therefore, the otherwise unexpected orderliness of the universe is to be expected if there is a God. Of course, we could not observe anything except an orderly universe (for if the universe were not orderly, we would not exist). But that doesn’t mean the order does not need explaining—just as the mere fact that fetuses develop into humans still needs explaining, even though if they did not develop into humans, humans would not be around to observe and explain things. It may be, as some physicists believe, that our universe is only one of many universes, which together form a “multiverse.” But the only reason they can have for believing in other universes is that the most general laws of our universe are such as to produce other universes, and that means that the multiverse itself—our multiverse (unlike most possible multiverses)—is governed by laws such as to produce, at some time, a human-evolving universe. So the argument takes off from the orderliness of our multiverse rather than just the orderliness of our universe. And my “argument from design” remains an enormously powerful argument for the existence of God.

Richard Swinburne appears with Bede Rundle, Steven Weinberg, William Dembski, Francisco Ayala, Michael Shermer, and Freeman Dyson in "Arguing God From Design" the ninth episode in the Closer to Truth: Cosmos, Consciousness, God TV series, hosted and created by Robert Lawrence Kuhn. The series airs Thursdays on the PBS HD network and many other PBS stations. Every Friday, participants will share their views on the previous day's episode.