International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science

by Neil A. Manson

Introductory Essay by Willem B. Drees

We could not have existed on the moon (without advanced technology) nor could we have come into being in a universe where chemistry, gravity or electromagnetism were very different. A sense of wonder at the world’s nature is a major motive for scientists and for religious believers. Partial answers are provided by science; scientists can explain why water freezes under particular conditions, given our laws of nature, for example. But the question may arise; “why are the laws are as they are?” Does this question persist, even when the scientists have delivered everything they can?

Analogies between the order of the natural world and the kind of order a craftsman might impose on his material go back centuries – a famous variant originated with William Paley, who began his Natural Theology (1802) with a story about a watch. Since organisms are at least as intricate as watches, an analogic argument can be made that organisms, like watches, must have a designer. This analogical line of reasoning had already been challenged a century earlier by David Hume and the rise of evolutionary explanations of functional adaptations further shook its foundations. However, the discussion on ‘arguments from design’ has continued, both in relation to organisms (‘Intelligent Design’) and in relation to the universe and the laws of nature (‘anthropic principles’).      

The volume God and Design discusses modern arguments from order, intelligibility, and purposefulness for the existence of a designer. Its authors take different sides on the issues. Most draw upon science, philosophy of science, probability theory, and analytical philosophy of religion. The contributors are philosophers and scientists, as well as advocates of ‘intelligent design’ such as William Dembski and Michael Behe. General considerations are provided by Elliott Sober, John Leslie, Robert O’Connor, Jan Narveson, Richard Swinburne, and Del Ratzsch. Part II focuses on physical cosmology (Paul Davies, William Lane Craig, Robin Collins, and Timothy McGrew et al). Part III considers the main alternative in cosmology, ‘multiple universes’ (Martin Rees, D.H. Mellor, Roger White, and William Dembski). Part IV turns to biology with contributions by Michael Behe, Kenneth R. Miller, Michael Ruse, Simon Conway Morris, and Peter Van Inwagen. A very insightful introductory chapter by Neil Manson explains the use of Bayesian reasoning (about the way evidence makes us consider a hypothesis more or less likely). Notions such as ‘fine-tuned’ (central to cosmological versions) and ‘irreducibly complex’ (central to biological ones) are discussed, as is the question of what the universe might be considered designed for – humanity?

This volume is very helpful and balanced. Somewhat remarkable is the absence of theologians, which seems to be typical of the self-imposed absence of theologians from such philosophical discussions. This is disappointing, as many genuine theological issues regarding evil and the relations between concepts of the creator as assumed here and theological conceptions are on the table.