Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics Chapter 3: The Design Argument

guest post by David Stoecker*

The chapter starts with the Watchmaker analogy. The watchmaker analogy asks a nonsensical question, and here it is: If you are walking through the woods and stumble upon a watch, what do you think? Do you wonder how, over time, bits of metal came together by chance, springs and gears were formed with no apparent purpose, yet over time they all joined accidentally, eventually formed a fully accurate functioning machine that measures time?

The answer to the question above is, of course no. No one stumbles upon a watch and thinks that it evolved. They assume someone must have dropped it. Due to the intentionality and precision of the watch one assumes there must have been an intelligence that first conceived of the watch and how it would work then created it. Yet when some look at nature, with all of its intentionality and precision, they see chance. The Watchmaker analogy is used to argue for design.

The design argument is also called the teleological argument. Telos is Greek for purpose, or ultimate ending. Teleology is the study of a thing’s design, or purpose. Plato and Aristotle first used the design argument to argue for the existence of God based on what they observed of the stars. Thomas Aquinas used it as one of his 5 arguments to prove God exists. Today it is called intelligent design, and there are many ways to argue it. Today we will look at 3 of them.

Fine Tuning as Design: The Anthropic Principle

Over time and a lot of study and research, scientists have found the universe to have a great deal of precision. In fact, to alter any of the multiple parameters would destroy the universe. This has led some scientists to argue that for life to exist, their had to be a designer. There are two classes of these parameters: one for the sun-planet-moon system and the other for the universe.

Astrophysicist Hugh Ross, in The Creator and the Cosmos, says that in order for life to be possible there are 35 parameters that must fall within a narrow range. One of those is the expansion rate of the universe. If it is slower than one part in 10 to the 55th power, the universe would collapse before galaxies could form; if it was faster than one part in 10 to the 55th power galaxies could not have formed. Without galaxies we have no starts, with no stars we have no planets forming and without planets we have no life.

Some of the other parameters are: velocity of light, ration of protons to electrons, ration of electron to proton mass, mass density of the universe, gravitational force constant, electromagnetic force constant, weak nuclear force constant, strong nuclear force constant, ration of electromagnetic force constant to gravitational force constant, velocity of light, fine structure constant and a lot more. Everything falls into an extraordinary balance in order for the whole to exist.

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The second set has 66 parameters to do with our sun-planet-moon system. They are all vital for life to exist on the planet. If the distance from Earth to Sun is any greater, the earth is too cool for a stable water cycle. If it is any closer to the Sun, it is too warm for a stable water cycle. If gravity was weaker, our atmosphere would lose too much water, but if it was stronger it would retain too much ammonia and methane, which are poisonous. If the day was greater, temperature differences would be too great to sustain life. If the day is shorter atmospheric wind velocities would be too great to survive.

Looking at just a couple of the parameters Mr. Ross identified in his book, we begin to realize just how exact things had to be in order for life to exist on Earth. Add to that all of the constants needed for the universe to exist and you begin to see that there may have to be a master’s hand behind the creation of it all. It is all much more complex than any watch in existence, and we would never suppose the watch was accidently created so why would we suppose that about life on Earth?

Information as Design: Information Theory and DNA

To understand this argument we must first understand that there are different kinds of order:

  1. Specified Order is a string of repeating information. This is a natural occurring kind of order. Examples of this are crystals and snowflakes. 
  2. Unspecified Complexity is non-repetitive and random. This is also a naturally occurring type of order. Examples are the shape of a rock and the wind howling. 
  3. Specified Complexity is non-repetitive and non-random. These are not naturally occurring. Examples are the sentence you are reading as well as statues.

A specified complexity is contingent and an unspecified complexity is not. The sentence takes an author and the sculpture needs a sculptor. The sculpture can be any shape the sculptor imagines. Information, on the other hand is communication between two minds that share a common language. That language must exist and be understood prior to any ability to communicate. Every language is a set of tokens and a set of conventions for the use of the tokens.

DNA is an agent housing a set of tokens used to store and convey information the body needs to develop and function. Before the DNA could be useful, there had to be a language that already existed. Genetic code had to exist prior to the existence of DNA. It also had to come from outside of the DNA. It didn’t come from the DNA any more than a bowl of alphabet soup can say “I love you.” It may spell it out but there is no intentionality.

The easiest way to explain the information contained in DNA is that it was imposed on the DNA by a mind, with intentionality. Naturalism claims that all things are produced by non-directed, random forces. This would seem a moot argument when used to explain how information was included in DNA and how a genetic code language exists at all. You must first have an informer to have information.

Complexity as Design: Irreducible Complexity

Irreducible complexity says there are some things that are at the simplest level they could be and still function. Biochemist Michael Behe says, “An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional.” Basically he is saying that there are things that had to be created, because they could not have by chance or through undirected forces have evolved.

Behe uses a mousetrap to make his point. He asks which part of the mousetrap can be removed and still leave a functioning mousetrap? The answer is nothing. You could not have first a piece of steel that caught a mouse, than added a piece of wood which caught a few more, than added a spring to catch ore. A mousetrap is made of individual pieces that when separated are useless at catching mice. The mousetrap could therefore not have evolved, but had to first have been conceived by an intelligent mind with the will and power to act.

In Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box,  he looks at various cases of irreducible complexity, such as the cilium, bacterial flagellum, antibodies, animal cells and blood clotting. All of these, he argues, are irreducibly complex. They are basic biological machines, but they are each useless if apart from the whole.

In conclusion, the design argument doesn’t prove that Christianity is the only truth. Rather, it looks at the God we find in the Bible being consistent with the intelligent designer defined by these arguments. There are several religions that describe an intelligent designer. As we have seen, the way things are precise and exact, from life on Earth to the balance of the universe, point us to a designer. Next time we will look at Chapter 4, which is the moral argument for the existence of God.



Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics Chapter 1: What is Apologetics?

Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics Chapter 2: Does God Exist? The Cosmological Argument


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*Written for TPE by David Stoecker of Spiritual Spackle.