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Richard Swinburne, Design, And Darwinism, by John Shaheen

Why Darwinism Does Not Compromise Swinburne's Design Argument

This argument has been set forth by many philosophers, but the most well known of these is likely the version set forth by William Paley (Paley, 1825). This argument is often presented as an analogy between a pocket watch and some complex member of biology, such as the vertebrate eye. Paley argues that if one were to see a watch, with all its complex parts working together to perform an intended function, it would be a rational obligation to infer an intentional designer of this object. Similarly, one can observe a human eye which is vastly more complex than a watch and all its members work together to perform the function of allowing for sight. One should be rationally obliged to infer a designer for such a case as well.

One possible strong defeater for this type of argument would be scientific evidence that, if given enough time, order can arise from apparent states of disorder and an account of such events could be given. Swinburne remarks that Darwin's theory of evolution does exactly this. It provides a natural explanation for how the apparent disordered state of matter can give rise to something as complex and functional as the eye. It also accounts for nearly the entire host of biological wonders. While there are a (fairly small) number of academics that publicly reject this claim, Swinburne accepts it. In fact, he thinks it devastates arguments from spatial copresence that relate to biology. While he mentions that this doesn't apply to all instances of spatial copresence that could be conceived, it is the principle that what was once considered the greatest instance of spatial copresence is now explainable by a natural theory. This makes it seem that other examples of this type have the potential to also be explained naturalistically, and no longer seem so improbable.

Swinburne is ready to dismiss arguments from spatial copresence all together. He proposes that there is a stronger form of copresence that can be observed that is not subject to the weaknesses of arguments of the former kind. He calls this temporal copresence. Referencing Aquinas as one of the early proponents of this argument, Swinburne goes on to describe that the regularity of events in the universe through time betray the existence of natural laws which require an explanation. He proposes this argument in the form of an analogy. Temporal copresence is oftentimes a product of human intentionality, therefore the copresence observed in the universe can be justifiably explained the same. Regardless of the strength of the argument, it appears to successfully avoid the problem of darwinian evolution. In this form of argument, it is the most fundamental physical laws that demand an explanation. Darwinian evolution is merely a product of how these laws play out in nature. One may remark that these laws may end up having a scientific explanation, but it appears that they are fundamental to science itself. The only options to avoid the conclusion of the existence of a deity appear to be that these laws can be explained by chance or necessity. Regardless of avenues to attack this new argument, Darwinian evolution does not pose any substantial problem. In fact, it is actually an example of the point Swinburne is trying to make. Evolution itself exhibits temporal copresence in an astonishing way. This process is non-random. It is strictly governed by the exact physical laws that Swinburne is referring to.

As we have seen, Darwinian evolution poses a problem for arguments from spacial copresence, especially biologically oriented ones. Despite this, arguments from temporal copresence such as the one Swinburne proposes are not negatively impacted by evolution. In fact, what is known about evolution appears to enhance the argument. While there may be other ways of critiquing arguments from temporal copresence, Darwinian evolution is not the best way to accomplish this.

  • 23 February 2022
  • Author: Guest Blogger
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