Friday, November 4, 2016

What Are We For?

A few weeks ago, we did a mini-series looking at the Cosmological Argument (CA) for the existence of God. It had a decent reception, and I found it interesting to do, so I am going to write an article or two more in a similar direction. What I have in mind to review are the Teleological and Moral Arguments for the existence of God.


The Teleological Argument (TA) comes first, and it relies on some of the things we learned from the CA. Teleology is the study of ends. We know things exist. But why do they exist? I do not mean by that, what processes brought them about, but rather, what purposes do they serve? What is the meaning of existence, both universally and for mankind in particular?

Materialism’s Answer

According to some, there is none. Life and the universe, they say, have no purpose. Existence is a cosmic accident, a chance event. Such people are materialists, and this position is a necessity of their worldview. They believe that the only causes for all the effects we see are material and efficient. There is only the stuff of matter, and the forces like gravity and electromagnetism that make the materials move through time and space.

This view allows no room for the supernatural. And as I have pointed out elsewhere, supernatural does not necessarily mean religious. At its most basic meaning, the supernatural is anything that exists outside of nature. Materialism takes it for granted that nothing does.

If that is true, then it follows there can be no purpose to the universe. Purpose, after all, is an element of intelligence. For something to have a purpose, someone must decide beforehand what that purpose will be. Someone must say, “I intend for this action to have this result.” If the universe itself were to have purpose, then obviously there would have to be someone existing beforehand to give such meaning to the cosmos. Materialism cannot permit that, because it would mean there are answers beyond those observable in the physical world. In other words, there would be questions the natural sciences could not answer.

Materialism’s Problems

When it comes to teleology, there are some serious problems with materialism. First, and most obviously, is its reliance on chance. If the universe does not have purpose, then it must be accidental. That means it is the result of random processes that just happened to have resulted in the world as we know it. We are lucky to be here.


So what is the problem with that? The problem is how small the margin is. I am no scientist, to spell out precise figures. If you are interested in them, I would suggest books like Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator. But in general, consider the strength of the force of gravity; the strength of chemical bonds; the size and shape of our galaxy; the distance of our solar system from the center of that galaxy; the size and energy output of our sun; the distance of earth from the sun; the relation of earth to its moon; and the makeup of our atmosphere. These are just a handful of factors that contribute to the existence of the universe, and of life. If any one of them were to be changed beyond what is an incredibly small margin in each case, the whole thing would fall apart.

Which brings us back to chance. The odds of the elements of existence coming together accidentally, and sticking together, are irreducibly small. The only way they could happen randomly would be if the universe was eternal, with no limits of time placed on it to restrict the combination of chances. However, as we learned from the CA, the universe is not eternal. It has to have a beginning, a fact which even most materialists have now been forced to admit. But even extending that beginning back tens of billions of years cannot eliminate the difficulty in getting the universe we have. It is too well designed for it to be reasonably assumed to be random.


That is not the only problem, but the rest are related to it. Another assumption of materialism is that the universe is always adapting. But why should that be a good thing? Why do adaptations continually make progress, rather than regress? It is a faith in the future that is not warranted by a belief in a random universe.


And speaking of the future, what about anticipation? Consider an enzyme. Stated very basically, enzymes are biological molecules that use controlled reactions to break down fuels and power cells. Now, that begs a very basic question. How did blind material recognize that there was fuel to be broken down, in order produce the enzymes to do that work? Nature would have to “know,” somehow, that the purpose for enzymes existed before enzymes came to be. The process has to be guided by an ability to look ahead. And of course, a merely material universe does not have this forward-thinking capacity.


One final problem presents itself in the materialistic view, which is the very concept of having a view. Human beings, at least, do have intellect. We have the ability to determine purposes and attempt to see them through. So where does that ability come from? Again referring to the CA, we know that mind is an effect that requires a cause. It could not create itself, since nothing can do so. So it must come from somewhere else. But there is no materialist explanation for this process. Matter, space, time, and energy have no intelligence. They are intelligible, or in other words, we can use intellect to observe them. But they do not think on their own. They do not contain the building blocks of mind, as they can be said to do of physical and biological systems. So from a materialist perspective, rationality appears out of nowhere. It is a great deus ex machina, which is quite ironic.

Theism’s Answer

Materialism has fallen flat. We find purpose and order in the universe that mere physical existence cannot explain from within. The rational alternative, then, is design from without.

A Watch in the Woods

Consider this classic illustration. Walking through the woods, you see light glinting under the leaves in front of you. You stoop down to brush them away, and discover a pocket watch. The casing is etched with a monogram. The face is numbered in order from 1 to 12, and two hands move across it in the same direction and at different but regular rates. Opening it, you find a mechanism of springs and gears that control its operation.

Now in looking at all of this, would it be rational to assume that this watch was the product of those woods? Did it, over the ages, surface gold from under the earth, shape it, and accidentally scrape letters on the back? Did it burn sand on a riverbank to produce glass? Are the gears mutated acorns that happened to fall together in what merely happens to resemble a function?

No sane person would assume that. They would look at the operation of the watch and assume that it was the product of intellect. And with enough time to consider its workings, even if they had never seen a watch before, they would determine that it was designed for the purpose of keeping time.

Specified Complexity

Materialists sometimes argue that this illustration is unhelpful. We recognize watches as products of mind because we already know that is what they are. The universe is not a human invention, so we should not impose human categories on it. I do not stipulate to the point that we only know what a watch is because we have prior experience with them, but that is beside the point. The point is specified complexity.

Specificity is order, while complexity is akin to chaos. Specified complexity is an oxymoron found both in human endeavor and in nature. Writing is a great example of specified complexity (though it will definitely make more sense if you read this illustration rather than just listening to my recording). If you see the letters “AAAAAAAAA,” you have a series that is specified. They follow the same pattern. If, on the other hand, you see “dsalfjerhevdv,” you have an example of complexity. There is no pattern at all. However, both sets share in common that they do not represent language. They have no meaning. Now consider reading the letters “My name is Stanley.” These letters are complex, a lack of pattern further complicated by the introduction of spaces. But they are also specified. I have applied the conventions of English writing to them to bring them into a recognizable order. I have imposed purpose on them.

So what is the point of all of this? Well, it is that we need an explanation of specified complexity, because it is something we find in nature. Materialism explains it through chance, but as we have seen, that is really no explanation at all. So what else can produce it? The only other force we know of capable of imparting specified complexity is intellect, since we know that human intellect does so in human things. Our most rational assumption is that an intellect beyond the universe has given the universe its purpose, its specified complexity, since we have no other viable alternatives.

The Teleological Argument

This, then, is the TA. We perceive purpose in the universe. The appearance of purpose cannot be explained by random chance or by purely material processes. The only thing known to impart purpose is intellect. Therefore, the purpose evident in the universe is most likely the result of an intellect that preceded it. This intellect is best identified with the Necessary Being, which the CA says must be the cause of everything in the universe. The creator is also the planner.

Hopefully this helps to make some sense of some very difficult concepts, and that the applications are evident. The main point is that the world is not random. It is here for a reason, and so are we. A system of thought which argues that life is meaningless is a path to despair, and it is also one that ignores the evidence in favor of assuming there is nothing more to life than what we can see. Theism, on the other hand, can tell us more. It can assure us that the desire for meaning is more than a mirage. It is, instead, part of the purpose for which we were created.

That is an important starting point. Once we know meaning is available, we can begin pursuing it. And ultimately, that meaning is found in Jesus Christ. His stated purpose was to save mankind (Matthew 18:11) by dying on the cross (John 3:14, 15). He predicted that death to His followers, and also predicted His resurrection as the proof of all He had said of Himself (Mark 10:33, 34). When everything happened just as He said (Matthew 28:6), it became clear who He was and what we ought to do (John 20:24–29). God had created us to love Him forever. Through Jesus, and through Him alone (John 14:6), we can do so. We exist to glorify the Lord for all that He has done for us, for giving us life and saving us from death. That is our purpose. Everyone who finds it is blessed. Anyone who refuses it will find that meaning always escapes them. So if we know this truth, we have a responsibility to share it. Nothing is more important than knowing what we are for, and how to achieve it.

Since this has been an article on its own, I am going to hold off on the Moral Argument until a later date. When I do approach it, though, I will be referring back to the TA a good bit. The Moral Argument is ultimately a specific extension of it.   

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