5/23/2007

Richard Dawkins 2

Next in Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, we find a discussion of the teleological argument, or argument from design. Stated the way Dawkins does, the argument goes from evidence of design in the universe and in living things to the existence of an ultimate designer. On page 139-140, he says:

It is clear that here on Earth we are dealing with a generalized process for optimizing biological species, a process that works all over the planet, on all continents and islands, and at all times … This is a recurrent, predictable,
multiple phenomenon, not a piece of statistical luck recognized with hindsight. And, thanks to Darwin, we know it is brought about: by natural selection.

In Dawkins’ world, life appears and evolves into increasingly more complex organisms by a “process.” I am not a biologist. I am not a chemist, or a physicist.
I am, however, an industrial engineer.

Another name for industrial engineering is “process engineering.” I have spent a considerable portion of my life in the pursuit of process improvement. I have professionally applied myself to manufacturing processes in pulp and paper, ductile iron foundries, and tire manufacture. I have looked at ways to improve equipment, layout and organization of jobs, the way human beings interact with their equipment, and the way humans interact with each other.

The end, or purpose, of this process improvement has been a manufacturing process that produces quality products, when our customers need them, at minimal cost, in a safe manner. There is one thing I know: a process left to itself does not meet that end. Anytime we take our hands off the controls, neglect the equipment, or neglect the people, we get crummy products, late shipments, high costs, and increased injuries.

The teleological argument is not about design in the engineering sense. It is about purpose.

As stated by Dawkins, the “generalized process for optimizing biological species” is guided “by natural selection.” Its clear purpose is to generate life that evolves to survive in our world. If the process works in the fashion described, it requires an intelligence to fix its purpose and guide it.

John Gerstner, in his book Reasons for Faith (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960, reprint 1995), uses this example on p. 34-35:

The dandelion sends up a little parachute to carry its seed along on the wind and find a place to germinate. That certainly spells intention … we search in vain to find anything in the dandelion that corresponds to our brain, the brain that enables us to think up useful plans.

We find the location of that purpose in “the ultimate cause which we have seen lies behind everything that is.” This is not a probabilistic argument. Evidence for any purpose whatsoever at any point demonstrates the existence of an intelligence to set that purpose.

The teleological argument is conclusive. It does not even depend on everything having an obvious purpose. It only requires at least one thing that shows intent. Evolution, if correct, demonstrates a purpose. It is one thing that clearly shows intent.

Please take note that I am not arguing for evolution here; I am arguing for God’s existence. This is a recto ad absurdum, where my opponent’s position is shown to prove my point. In addition, I do not necessarily speak for Gerstner when I state the argument this way.

To use another example, I remember reading an article in the University of Tennessee newspaper, “The Daily Beacon,” when I was in college. It was about a biology student who had proved evolution to her satisfaction by writing a computer program. The program generated a sentence from one of Shakespeare’s plays through “random chance.” I know a little about computers, and I know what was stated ‘between the lines’ in that article.

Computers do not think; they really just compare and calculate numbers very quickly. They use algorithms, methods of computing that enable computers to process information using binary numbers. This algorithm followed a simple course. A random letter was generated using mathematical manipulation. This letter was compared to the sentence. If it fit the next letter needed by the sentence, then it was held in memory. If it did not, it was deleted, and a new letter was randomly generated to take its place. The program ‘wrote’ the sentence one letter at a time. (This kind of simulation seems to be a regular occurrence in the scientific world. Programs like this, only with much more complex algorithms, turn up all of the time.)

In order to make that program work, an intelligent person had to take raw materials, assemble them into a computer, develop a programming language that enabled the computer to manipulate data, and write the algorithm it used to generate and keep the letters for the sentence. This program was written and designed. That involves creativity and intention. Far from proving that there is no God, these programs and arguments demonstrate that He is necessary.

Dawkins does not state his opponents’ positions well in some key instances in the book. I will look at another important area, the argument from Scripture, in my next post on Dawkins.

1 comment:

J. K. Jones said...

I had a comment on Facebook that I would like to address here. It was basically the idea that E. T., not God designed the Earth and not God. Strictly speaking, the argument above does not prove that the Christian God designed the world we live in, but that is not the full story.

The argument from design or purpose is part of a larger set of arguments that have to be taken together. For the total, see:

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/search/label/Why%20You%20Should%20Become%20a%20Christian

When taken with the argument from the existence of things (cosmological argument, for example, we can conclude:

We have reasoned to a being that has always existed, has great power, has the power to choose, has intelligence, and has intention. Only personal beings have the power to choose, and possess intelligence and intention. This truth fits the general idea of the eternal, personal God of the Bible well, but not perfectly.

There are other arguments given in the series "Why You Should Become a Christian." There is a link to that under tags.

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