Thursday, October 27, 2011

Contingency and Design Arguments

An acceptance of the PSR leads one to believe that the whole of contingent reality C has an explanation of its existence. Now, an explanation can be of one of two types: a thing's explanation is found either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. Since C does not exist by a necessity of its own nature, it follows that C's explanation is found in an external cause. This external cause must be a necessary and eternal entity N, as well as very powerful in order to cause something as vast as C.

Let's suppose the atheist not only denies that N is God, but that there is any such entity as N. The atheist could do this, for example, by denying the PSR. The problem is that this presents the atheist with a new challenge. For, design arguments often present the uniformity of nature or the fine-tuning of the universe's initial conditions within the context of a trilemma:

1. The laws of nature are either due to necessity, chance, or design. (Premise)

One would be hard-pressed to think of a fourth alternative to premise (1). Keeping in mind the atheist's denial of the argument from contingency, especially the existence of N, we are led to premise (2):

2. The laws of nature are not due to necessity or chance. (Premise)

From these two premises, it follows that:

3. Therefore, the laws of nature are due to design. (From 1 and 2)

But surely the atheist does not want to affirm (3)! Yet, he already denies one of his alternatives, which leaves him with only one option: the affirmation that the laws of nature (and/or the universe's fine-tuning) are due exclusively to chance. Remember, there is no N at all according to this radical position, so the laws of nature cannot be the products of a combination of necessity and chance.

Obviously, if the chance hypothesis doesn't pan out (and there are good reasons to think it doesn't), one must accept that N exists and/or that the laws of nature are designed. Whichever route is taken, a large chunk of either the contingency or design arguments must be affirmed as a matter of consistency.


  1. Interesting move.

    Would this still kick in with meta-law arguments? (The laws in our universe are the result of a metaverse.) I imagine then the question would be whether the metaverse laws are due to chance, necessity, and so on.

    Also, what if necessity is affirmed?

  2. I assume you're using "metaverse" as a synonym for multiverse? This is where the proponent of the chance hypothesis will typically go, and I think there are enormous epistemological problems with it. As you mention, though, even with a multiverse, the problem is just pushed back a step. For, the mechanism that produces the laws of nature throughout the multiverse are due to either necessity, chance, or design.

    If necessity is affirmed, then that's not a huge problem for the theist. Even on the assumption that the laws of nature are due to necessity, God's existence could simultaneously be affirmed through the moral argument, the conceptualist argument, religious experience, or a host of other non-teleological arguments.

  3. Is there any problem for the atheist affirming that the laws of nature are due to necessity? Actually, is there any problem for the atheist affirming the existence of some necessary being (the universe is a necessary being, for example)?

    I'm wondering why those moves are not used.

  4. I think that's a much better position to take. I know if I were an atheist, I would hold that N exists and just is identical with nature. Nevertheless, I suspect the reason this route isn't taken very often is that even if N isn't God, it is deemed too God-like. It's pretty much identical to Spinoza's view of God.

    Of course, this is all a moot point is the laws of nature can be shown to be contingent, or at least most plausibly contingent. Assuming the universe had a beginning would be a good start in arguing that that's the case.