The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Friday, November 10, 2006

More Thoughts on Design Arguments

My friend replies:

One question I would have is theological. Wouldn’t Psalm 19 (to name a sample relevant passage of Scripture), by assuming the validity of arguments from design, effectively require we believers theologically to hold to the ultimate logical validity and practical legibility, or self-evident quality, of some version of the argument from design for theism? Also, might the Biblically-introduced datum (a la Genesis) that there was a Fall marring the created order account for “the failure of life to be more abundant in the universe?” (Notably, arguing to the historicity of the “Fall” in Genesis would not be do-able apriori, historical argument never being apriori argument.)

I replied thusly:

Psalm 19 implies that *something* about the heavens is a witness to God. Philosopher types (like me!) tend to want to put than in a philosophical mode and make an argument out of it: “The stars are blah blah, therefore there’s a God.” But this is not the only reading of the text. It could be that their sheer grandeur *impresses* upon us a sense of their being the handiwork of a deity (note that even Hume seems to be open to this kind of argument (further influence of Hutchinson?)).

This could translate cognitively as operating on a sensus divinitatus (don’t need to think Plantinga Here. Chisholm wrote of Hugh of St. Victor’s occuli mysterium before Plantinga wrote anything about the SD, a book which thanks Plantinga for reading and commenting upon). This way of heeding the testimony of the stars is consistent with the general lack of availability of an argument from design.

Furthermore, just *what* the argument which works is and precisely *how* it works—issues the philosopher of religion will care deeply about—are underdetermined by the text. It could be perfectly rational to realize *that* the world just couldn’t be an accident without knowing *how* to put the argument together just right. This is what Alston and Plantinga after him call the difference between knowing and showing.

They are insistent that knowing doesn’t always entail showing. This was one of the main points of Plantinga’s earliest book _God and Other Minds_. We are perfectly rational in believing each other to possess minds (whatever their nature, another mystery). Yet its very hard to *argue* for that. Basically, all we have are arguments from analogy. So even if it turned out that that was all we had for design arguments, we wouldn’t be in too bad shape. Still, a philosopher wants to formalize and I’m very unhappy with all current formulations.

Keywords: Plantinga, Alston, design arguments, teleological arguments, rationality, inference.


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