Overview:

Where teleological arguments argue that God exists because of the "hallmarks" of design, dysteleological ones propose atheism on bad design.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the philosophy of religion, we often hear teleological arguments from theists to propose the probable existence of God. These are arguments that concern design and purpose. Theists like to look at the universe and see the hallmarks of design all over the place.

“The universe is fine-tuned for life,” they say, while ignoring that it is much easier to die than live, that the universe is not teeming with life but life is very difficult to get started, that black holes make the universe look fine-tuned for death. So on and so forth.

We can argue at length whether this universe looks like a watch that has been found on the ground—a watch that calls out for being designed and created by an intelligent agent—or whether it is a brute fact absent of an intelligent creator-agent.

But what is just as important and interesting to consider is the problem of dysteleology.

Where teleological arguments concern themselves with how the universe looks as if it has been designed, or has meaning or purpose, dysteleological ones are a family of arguments that provide evidence that God does not exist because there are clear-cut examples of very poor design.

The whole project is doomed as it makes the theist look silly, and God look even sillier.

For the naturalist, there is no such thing as poor design in evolution. Simply put, there is no agency involved in evolution, and the process works in bringing things about using only pre-existing building blocks with no eye on the big picture. Evolution is only “interested in” (it has no agency and so is not really interested in anything—this is a turn of phrase to help explain) successfully getting an organism to reproductive age and to then reproduce.

The teleological argument for a designing God looks like this:

  1. Living things are too well-designed to have originated by chance.
  2. Therefore, life must have been created by an intelligent creator.
  3. This creator is God.

On the other hand, a dysteleological argument might run as follows:

  1. An omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent creator God would create organisms that have optimal design.
  2. Organisms have features that are suboptimal.
  3. Therefore, God either did not create these organisms or is not omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.

OmniGod is the term I like to use to describe the God of classical theism: all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. This is the God I take aim at in my new book 30 Arguments Against the Existence of “God”, Heaven, Hell, Satan, and Divine Design [UK] from which much of this short piece is taken.

In the human body alone, bad design is rampant. Let me list some examples of poor design that simply wouldn’t or shouldn’t be the case in the event of OmniGod designing us:

  • Women have narrow birth canals leading to painful births (almost akin to man-flu) and maternal deaths (okay, I feel bad about the last joke).
  • Remaining with pregnancy, ectopic pregnancies, where a fertilized egg can implant into the fallopian tube, cervix, or ovary rather than the uterus, can cause huge problems too.
  • Our digestive/alimentary canals share the same pathway as our breathing system. It would be better, as with other mammals like whales, if these were separate. Choking to death appears to be a design criterion for God. Thanks for that.
  • Hernias (which used to cause intestinal blockage, gangrene, and death) result from weaknesses in the abdominal wall caused by the development of the male testes.
  • Wisdom teeth – poor quality, painful teeth.
  • The appendix. These serve no present purpose and often get infected.
  • Some muscles and nerves, left over from an evolutionary history, are barely or ever used. Other muscles have no use – such as ear moving muscles.
  • The back is poorly “designed”, with a host of problems, made worse because the spinal cord is unable to heal.
  • The gene for synthesizing our own vitamin C is defective (as it is with other primates), which can cause scurvy and death.
  • Human (and many animal) eyes are poorly “designed” with an inverted retina that has caused many adaptations, resulting in blind spots.

You get the picture. And this is equally the case across all life forms. Evolution does just enough to allow the organism to continue living and pass on its genes to continue existing going forward. It doesn’t start with a blank design slate and create, from scratch, the best possible way of functioning and achieving a given objective.

But seen in the light of OmniGod and all of its amazing design potential, these shortcomings make absolutely no sense at all.

Let me just emphasize that: the issues are fully explained given evolution under naturalism (life absent of supernatural forces like God). But they are not explicable in light of OmniGod. To explain these shortfalls, the theists, whether or not they deny evolution, have to do all sorts of crazy ad hoc rationalizations (create special arguments or explanations on the hoof) and tack them onto each example of bad design. The whole project is doomed as it makes the theist look silly, and God look even sillier.

Evolutionary theists have their work cut out too, because they still have to explain all these weird scenarios—especially the ones that involve pain and suffering—in light of a God who could do something about it but who doesn’t.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...