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This idea of a god fine tuning the universe makes no sense to me. Even if I granted earth being fine tuned for human life (ignoring all the evidence to the contrary), how does this account for things like volcanoes and weather on other planets that have absolutely nothing to do with humans?

How do volcanoes on Mars assist human existence on earth?
How does a hurricane on Saturn assist human existence on earth?

Can someone help me with this?

This really is a question about the teleological proof of God's existence. The claim that the universe shows clear purpose and thus must be designed by an intelligence.

As you have pointed out, even if we accept this argument, there are some baffeling design decisions (cancer anyone?) to contend with.

However there is an interesting, if a little obscure, philosophical observation we can make here which might explain why for atheists like us this argument seems so obviously stupid, yet for theists so obviously true. I don't think it is because theists have never heard of cancer (or cliffs) but rather something deeper is going on.

Let’s start with the question: If purpose does not exist in nature, what on earth is purpose?

Obviously it is a relationship between two things. We always find purpose in the following type of propositions A is for the purpose of B. eg The universe exists for the purpose of humanity, I traveled to the bank for the purpose of robbing it. Thus we should always talk of individual purposes existing; it is a nonsense to talk of purpose abstracted from things existing (just as the relationship of love can only exist between persons, it cannot exist in itself).

Secondly all examples of purpose can be phrased as an answer to a why question. If I have a proposition that A is for the purpose of B then In answer to the question Why A? I can respond For the purpose of B.

Both these observations (that purpose is a relation between objects, and are a response to why questions) is equally true of another work reason. I would contend that any proposition of the form A is for the purpose of B – can be re-written as A is a reason for B[1]. I would further contend that any why question answered by A is for the purpose of B is also satisfactorily answered (if somewhat differently) by A is a reason for B. It is important to note that if the latter is true then the former is also true – because for something to fulfil a purpose it must also be a reason.[2]

What then is the difference between a purpose and a reason? As far as I can see it is that purpose implies intention and that requires a mind. So, to my mind, those who see the universe as ‘fine tuned’ by God are seeing exactly the same thing as we are. They are not blind, it is merely they assume the existence of a mind. Here’s the rub: The assumption of the mind must come prior to the observation of purposes – if a mind is not assumed then we can talk equally coherently of the same things using the language of reasons.[3]

Anyone who offers the ‘argument from design’ as a proof of God is a fool – they must have started with with the assumption of God for the ‘proof’ to have any sense!

This is why the argument makes no sense to you or me, it is because we do not assume God at the outset. Similarly it is why to a Theist this argument does make obvious sense.
 1. I do not wish to imply sufficiency in this relationship, only necessity
 2. Interestingly this does not work the other way around, we can easily conceive of a reason which is not a purpose - the existence of ice is the reason I was late to work this morning at no level implies the existence of ice has the purpose of making me late for work this morning!
 3. Put another way the talk of purpose as opposed to reasons does not acutally increase our ability to answer why questions.
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