Metaphysics and the Teleological Argument

by Brian Hearn

I can say with certainty the predominant theme in Peter van Inwagen’s Metaphysics is uncertainty. In most chapters the author enters with his refutation and exits with a tenor of inconclusiveness. The liberal use of modal logic in countering some of the arguments for God’s existence appeared to be a common tactic. I kept thinking the pea must be under the cup in possible-world three, but the author’s logical sleight-of-hand was too quick for me to discern. My conclusion: There is a set of possible worlds in which van Inwagen’s use of modal logic leaves little doubt in the reader’s mind, but unfortunately our actual world is not in that set. I probably just need to brush up on modal logic – but in the meantime I want to turn to van Inwagen’s treatment of the design (or teleological) argument from the fine-tuning of the cosmos. This variation of the classical argument for the existence of God is one I personally find compelling. Here too the author leaves things unresolved and the counter-positions at par. We are told neither a rational designer nor brute materialism has the upper hand. The universe may find its ultimate origin in God or in some material realm beyond the boundary of our observable universe – take your pick. But did the author successfully make his case?

I agree with van Inwagen the Arche is either a Chaos or a Logos. The Greek word Arche or origin represents the foundation of existence in which all things rest. According to the author, it is either grounded in meaningless Matter (Chaos) or purposeful Mind (Logos). The ultimate origin or First-cause of our observable universe is either God[i] who created it ex nihilo or some unobservable hyper-reality which spawned it ex materia[ii]. I agree with van Inwagen there are no other alternatives worthy of consideration. The author does a good job dispelling the nonsense suggested by some pop-writers of an observable universe exploding into existence out of metaphysical nothingness. From nothing, nothing comes, plain and simple. All attempts to state otherwise completely miss the boat on what nothingness really is. True metaphysical nothingness is what rocks dream about – as Aristotle put it. When we talk about voids in space or the quantum vacuum, those things are emphatically something. Creation from these would be considered ex materia (from material). So we are on the same page; our observable universe began to exist, and the Arche is either a Chaos or a Logos. Now it’s easy to see how fine-tuning squares with Logos (since there is an empirical correlation between fine-tuning and a designer), but how do we square it with Chaos?

Various astrophysical constants and parameters from the Standard Model, including their relationships, are narrowly just-so for the existence of a universe with conscious observers. Van Inwagen’s recognition of the overwhelming improbability raised by these known anthropic-coincidences is in line with what most experts say on the subject today (Penrose, Davies, Hawking et al.) Nontheistic cosmologists have been working for decades to get around the theological implication of the apparent fine-tuning of the universe by offering several hypotheses…

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