On Design in the Universe

The idea that there is design in the universe, and that this design is evidence of a designer, is an argument often put forward by believers.  The argument from design is one that is easy to draw the listener into, and can be quite compelling to those that look only on the surface.  When asked to ‘prove it’ the arguer need only wave his arm around pointing to their environment, or to the wider universe, and say ‘there is my proof’.  Many non-believers have heard the statement ‘the proof is all around you’ when asking the believer for proof of God, and this argument is implicitly alluded to in that statement.  It is not the only thing alluded to in that statement of course, and the main point of the ‘proof is all around you’ statement is the fact that there is existence at all.  However, deeper examination of the statement will lead to the argument from design.  Here we will look at various versions of the argument from design, as well as some of the counters to the argument, drawing mainly on criticisms of the argument from David Hume.  By doing so we will ask questions about how compelling the argument from design is, as well as how compelling the criticisms of the argument from design are. So, what is the argument from design?

The argument from design

Most people will be familiar with the argument from design, also referred to as ‘the teleological argument’, however, for the sake of clarity we will explore the argument before moving on to the counterarguments.  The argument from design, of course, is the argument that there appears to be design in the universe, from the smallest of things to the universe itself, and where we find something that was designed, we also find a designer.  Design is also indication of some level of intelligence.  So, bearing this in mind, the universe, being designed, must also have an intelligent designer.  This designer, according to theistic arguments, is God.  That of course is a very rough breakdown of the argument, but gives some basic idea to the fundamental idea underlying it.  The argument is used by many contemporary theists, and is the basis for Paley’s Watchmaker argument, and is also the argument that can be found in David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

A teleological argument syllogism

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Untitled7858758765.png

To break it down in a more formal manner, the argument goes somewhat like this:

P1) The universe is a highly organised and complex system, and one that is perfectly suited to causing particular effects.
P2) Some human made objects are highly organised and complex systems, and are systems that are perfectly suited to causing particular effects.
C1) Therefore there are similarities between the universe and human made objects.
P3) Where two things resemble each other, so too do their causes.
C2) Therefore the cause of nature resembles the cause of human creations.
P4) Human creations are caused to exist by intelligent designers.
C3) Therefore the natural world was caused by an intelligent designer.

Paley’s Watchmaker

This is the underlying argument in Paley’s Watchmaker argument, but Paley gives us a way to visualise the idea somewhat (Himma, 1995).  Paley’s argument asks us to imagine ourselves coming across a pocket watch in the desert.  Upon coming in contact with this pocket watch we immediately know that there is a watchmaker that created it.  Its design, its intricacies, the many parts that work together to keep the time and move the hands in a particular way, all point towards it having a designer and a watchmaker.  More about Paley’s watchmaker argument can be found in Artificial Agent’s excellent article ‘Dismantling the Watchmaker’ here at AiR. As stated though, the underlying argument behind it somewhat resembles the above formal argument.  Close enough to the above formal argument, at least, for many of the following counterarguments to be useful for Paley’s Watchmaker argument, as well as the many other forms of the teleological argument.  So, what are some of the counterarguments for the teleological argument?

A brief look at Hume’s counterarguments

The above formal argument somewhat represents the first argument put forward by Cleanthes to Philo in Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Hume in Cottingham, 2008).  To this argument Hume responds with an argument not unlike his argument concerning the problem of induction. The simplest explanation is to say that even when we have seen something a thousand times, we have no good reason to assume that it will always be the case.  It may make something more probable, but it does not necessarily make it the case.  For example, we may have seen a thousand white swans in the past, and this would give us reason to believe that it is probable that all swans are white.  It does not, however, give us reason to declare that all swans are white.    So, just as with the discovery of black swans, we might discover some things do not need an intelligent designer.  However, while this gives us reason to insert doubt into the claim that the appearance of design implies a designer, it is not a compelling enough argument to dispel the idea all together.  It simply criticises the reasoning behind inferring a designer for the universe from other designed things.

Though it does bring us to a criticism based along similar lines.  An argument often used, and one that is a shorthand form of Paley’s watchmaker argument, goes something along the lines of ‘when we see a painting, we know there is a painter’.  Hume covers this somewhat in his dialogues when he states ‘that a stone will fall, that fire will burn, that the earth has solidity, we have observed a thousand times and a thousand times more’ (Hume in Cottingham, 2008, p366).  There is something intuitive to the claim that when we see a painting, we know there is a painter; and it is for reasons similar to what Hume states.  We know that there is a painter involved because it is something that we have observed ‘a thousand times and a thousand times more’ (Hume in Cottingham, 2008, p366).  Consider that when we come across a car, we do not automatically infer that it is a sculpture created by an artist, and it is because of our experience with how cars are made that we do not infer that it is a sculpture created by an artist.  This means that in order to make the same kind of inference with a universe we would had to have come across the creation of a universe ‘a thousand times and a thousand times more’ in order for the inference to be the same as that of a painter or a watch.  However, to argue that the argument from design is simply based on the inference made by arguments like ‘when we see a watch we know there is a watchmaker’ and ‘when we see a painting we know there is a painter’ would be to argue from a faulty position.  For it is not simply the like effects equal like causes arguments that the argument is based on, there is also the argument from intricacy.

Paley’s watchmaker involves the argument from intricacy by making an analogy to the gears of a watch, all working in a complex and interconnected manner to bring about a particular end, with that end being the moving of the watch hands to show us the correct time (Himma, 1995).  Hume includes this kind of analogy in his dialogue using the example of a house and an architect.  In the dialogue Cleanthes argues that the interconnectedness and complexity of the structure gives us cause to infer that there was an intelligent designer behind the structure.  In Hume’s dialogue Cleanthes goes on to relate this interconnectedness and complexity of the structure to the structure found in the universe.  Again, there is a certain intuition that this claim brings to the fore.  When we look at the universe, or even just the human body, we see complexity, and we see the body function in a certain way where certain ends are brought about by that complexity.  This intuition can be used to drive further intuitions that agreement with arguments like Paley’s watchmaker argument. 

In response to this Hume brings up here is similar point to the one made previously about having no good reason to believe that simply because we have come across something before, it does not mean it will necessarily be the case the next time.  Think back to the swan example in the previous paragraph.  A simple example here is natural interconnected networks of caves, these give an appearance that they have been designed this way; with tunnels looking as though they have been purposefully and mindfully carved out in order to allow access between caves.  However, there was no mindfulness or purpose involved in the creation of the tunnels between caves.  Natural processes have created them, not intelligence.  However, following the logic of the argument from complexity, we would have to conclude that these networks of caves had an intelligent designer, an architect that designed and built the caves and their connecting tunnels.  So, as Hume states, just because we have seen something before, and something else resembles it, it does not mean we have reason to infer like causes.  Of course, as with previously, this is not a compelling enough argument to outright dismiss the argument from design.  The argument simply gives us cause to doubt the claim that appearance of design automatically infers a designer.

Hume brings up several other points regarding the argument from architecture, such as whether we can learn information about the origin of something, or how it came to be, simply from examining a small part of that something.  However, as with the previous arguments, none of Hume’s arguments are compelling enough to allow us to dispel the argument from design outright.  Instead they give us good reason to doubt that the appearance of design infers an intelligent designer.  Hume does bring up an excellent point later in the dialogue, ‘for aught we can know a priori, matter may contain the source or spring of order originally within itself’ (Hume in Cottingham, 2008, p367).  Considering that Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species was nearly a century away from being published, this is somewhat of a prophetic statement.  For since Hume’s argument we have come to learn the theory of evolution, and the theory of evolution has enabled us to learn and understand how matter can indeed arrange itself, and contain the ‘source or spring of order originally within itself’ (Hume in Cottingham, 2008, p367).  Further investigation into genetic encoding, DNA, mutations, natural selection, and more, has enabled us to see how the appearance of design can come about naturally, and without the hand of an intelligent designer.

As with the other arguments though, while evolution and natural selection does give us a method of understanding how the appearance of design can come about through completely natural processes, it is not a compelling enough argument to outright dismiss or shut down the idea of intelligent design.  This is because there are still gaps in our knowledge, and these gaps allow the proponent of intelligent design to further reduce the conversation.  These further reductions allow the proponent to argue for why intelligence is needed, and offer further examples of design.  One such proponent is Stephen Meyer, a scientist that promotes intelligent design.  Meyer gives us an example of how a gap in knowledge can be used to offer an argument for design.  One argument that Meyer offers us is ‘the argument for design from biological information’, with this argument being based upon the idea that ‘RNA, DNA, and similar ingredients of biological cells are, apparently, not products of evolution, but preconditions’ (Chappell, 2011, p94).  These preconditions, and the inability to fully explain their origins, allows an argument to be made that design was necessary in order for these to come about.  These gaps in knowledge allow inferences and questions to be raised.  While those who reject the idea of intelligent design may not find these arguments compelling, those that hold to the idea of intelligent design do.

Like many other mysterious gaps that were once filled using a ‘divine hand’, we may discover that there are purely natural forces at work.  Just as with evolution, we may discover that the ‘laws’ of the universe function in such a way that allow these things to happen.  These ‘laws’ may work in such a way that enables an appearance of design at the deepest levels of the structure of the universe.  Though herein lies another problem with any argument against design, the proponent of intelligent design can simply reduce the argument even further by asking ‘well where did these laws come from?’ or ‘who designed these laws?’, as well as other similar questions.  Many who argue with proponents of the argument from design will have come across this question, or the claim that ‘laws imply a law maker’.  The ‘god of the gaps’ thinking is considered fallacious of course, but fallacious or not it is in these gaps that we find the proponents for intelligent design.  The intuitions brought about by the appearance of design in the universe, at both the small and large scale, allow these ‘god of the gaps’ arguments to be more convincing to certain people than they ought to be.

It is also these gaps that stop us from being able to create a truly compelling argument against the argument from design, and the idea of intelligent design.  As those who wish to argue for it, or wish to be convinced by it, can at this time find some gap in which their argument can be inserted.  However, it is also these gaps in knowledge, along with the above arguments, such as the self-arranging nature of various parts of the universe, that allow us to cast doubt on these arguments.  So, while arguments like Hume’s raise excellent points, and allow us to cast doubt on the argument from design, they are not truly compelling.  There is nothing in them that allows us to show that there is no design in the universe, and no intelligence behind any of the perceived design, or that it needs at least some level of intelligent design.  Those already convinced of the faultiness of the intelligent design argument will find these arguments convincing of course, however, they are not compelling enough to completely convince those who are already convinced by the intelligent design argument.  Though this does not mean that it will always be the case, for we still have much discovering to do, and much discovery to come.  As those gaps get smaller and smaller, the arguments against design will become more and more compelling, and the arguments for design less and less convincing.

References
Chappell, T. (2011) The Philosophy of Religion. Milton Keynes, The Open University,

Himma, K. E. (1995) Design Arguments for the Existence of God [Online] The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) (ISSN 2161-0002), Available at https://www.iep.utm.edu/design/#SH1c (Accessed 3 August 2019).

Hume, D. ‘The Argument From Design’ (2008 [1777]) in Cottingham, J. Western Philosophy:An Anthology, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, pp. 365-370.

Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

About Dave Rowlands

Hi there! I'm Dave, as my username suggests. I am a life long atheist, having never developed a belief in God. That is not to say that I do not enjoy a good discussion about God, and discussions involving the philosophy of religion; I just do not believe in God. I have an undergrad degree in Philosophy and Psychology, though my heart lies more in Philosophy than it does Psychology. Which is why I am currently doing a masters degree in Philosophy, which I (hopefully) should finish next year. It is also part of the reason I enjoy discussions involving God and the philosophy of religion, so long as those discussions are curteous and two way. The question of whether God exists is a large one, and impacts our foundational beliefs, and much of what we believe is impacted by whether or not we believe God exists. However, my interests go much further than simply philosophy of religion of course, and I enjoy discussing a wide range of philosophical topics. With some of my favourite topics being things the self, philosophy of mind, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics. I spend much of my time studying, but I also enjoy reading philosophy outside of my studies too. I also enjoy reading horror and scifi. I am also a big fan of films, with my favourite genres being horror and scifi there too. There are also lots of TV shows and video games that I enjoy too. While I don't do quite as much of it these days, I also like writing my thoughts, with the best of those writings being published here on AiR. I would also be happy to discuss any topics with any of our readers, so long as those discussions were courteous, two way, and with the intention of exploring topics, rather than simply talking at me. For those that have taken the time to read my work, I thank you, and am very grateful that you have given me a slice of your time.

9 Responses to On Design in the Universe

  1. jakefelasco says:

    Imagine that your friend the theist wants to engage you in a debate about Bible verses. Sensing that this could be a very long conversation, you raise your hand and say, “Wait, stop, before we dive in to the many Bible verses, could you please first prove that the Bible is a credible authority on the subjects you wish to address, such as the most fundamental nature of everything everywhere?”

    When your theist friend admits they can provide no such proof, you shrug and walk away. Instead of diving in to a debate about a thousand different Bible verses, you’ve efficiently gone up a level and challenged the credentials of the Bible itself, the authority all the Bible verses are based upon.

    Such a sweeping dismissal of Bible verses may be an uncomfortable experience for your theist friend because they’ve spent years learning about Bible verses and may even have an advanced theology degree which has established them as an expert and provided them with social authority and status etc. They really want to play the game on the Bible verse level, because that’s what they’re good at. But you gently reply, so sorry friend, but this can’t be helped. No proof equals no belief in the relevance of Bible verses.

    This little story can be flipped around and applied to atheism too. We can observe that atheist literature typically doesn’t prove the qualifications of human reason to address the very largest of questions, and rarely even asserts such qualifications, but instead merely assumes them.

    Atheists will typically state that reason is the best tool we have, a reasonable claim, which regrettably proves nothing about reason’s qualifications for addressing the very largest of questions, such as whether everything everywhere was designed or not. Consider a twelve year old and a four year old in a classroom. The twelve year old is indisputably better at math, but this hardly proves she is qualified to do particle physics.

    The limits of human reason can be clearly seen in the debate about design. Both sides of the debate assume without questioning that intelligence is relevant to a discussion about the most fundamental nature of everything everywhere. One side says reality arises from intelligence and is thus designed, while the other side doubts this is true, or claims it is not.

    Typically neither side to this debate ever makes it’s way to the common sense realization that the concept we have of intelligence is built entirely from observations on one tiny little planet in one of billions of galaxies. This concept can be very useful at human scale, such as when we compare donkeys to humans, but that says nothing about whether such a concept as intelligence is at all relevant to the very largest of questions concerning everything everywhere, a realm we can’t define in even the most basic manner.

    What we can observe in the design debate is that many participants on all sides are very intelligent, and that they all share a very human desire to have an answer, or at least some method of making one’s way towards an answer. This desire is very understandable, because as humans we make our living by knowing things, and so naturally we want to know this too.

    But wanting to know things is not automatically the same as knowing. Wanting to have a methodology which can lead one to knowings is not automatically the same as having such a methodology.

    What if we don’t know the answer to questions the scale of the design debate, and have no way of knowing? What if our true position on such topics is one of an empty void, a vast realm of nothingness?

    And what if such a position just happens to align with the vast majority of observable reality quite well?

    • [What if we don’t know the answer to questions the scale of the design debate, and have no way of knowing? What if our true position on such topics is one of an empty void, a vast realm of nothingness?

      And what if such a position just happens to align with the vast majority of observable reality quite well?]

      Hi Jake! Thank you for your comments! Which also reminds me that I never came back to our previous discussion, for which I apologise profusely. I had so much going on at the time that I completely forgot about it. I’m normally pretty good for remembering stuff like that, but life got away from me for a few weeks and everything got pushed to the back of my mind! So, many apologies!

      One of the problems with a discussion like this is that we start about 2/3 of the way through a conversation. We start with preformed definitions, and positions we hold, and sometimes those positions and definitions can be interpreted differently by the person we’re having a conversation with. This leads to us talking past each other or, even worse, talking at each other. So, like I said last time we talked, I’m going to reset the conversation back to the beginning. This will enable me to make sure that I understand how you’re defining things, what your position is, what your argument is, and that kind of thing. It will mean you answering a lot of questions about your position and your criticism, but hopefully you won’t mind!

      So, I feel like the best place to begin is with something called ‘The Paradox of Inquiry’. I would be interested in your responses to the argument it makes. It goes something like this:

      P1) If we already know about something then it is useless to inquire about it, as we already know about it.
      P2) If we do not know about something then we can not begin to inquire about it, so it is useless to inquire about it.
      C1) Therefore inquiry is pointless.

      PS. I’m having some problems posting comments at the mo. Whenever I hit Post Comment it just disappears into the ether of the web. So trying a new method to see if it works.

  2. jakefelasco says:

    Dave’s bio says…

    “The question of whether God exists is a large one, and impacts our foundational beliefs, and much of what we believe is impacted by whether or not we believe God exists. ”

    Ok, not directly on topic, apologies for that. But sorta somewhat briefly, here is another excellent example of the limits of human reason (relevant if one is going to use reason to analyze design vs. non-design).

    Please observe how pretty much everyone, typically including the most prominent philosophers and theologians, assumes without questioning that “exists” or “doesn’t exist” are the only two possible answers to the God question.

    Observe how the debate built upon that assumption goes on for centuries, led by some of the greatest minds among us on all sides, in spite of the fact that the overwhelming vast majority of reality, space, does not fit neatly in to either the “exists” or “doesn’t exist” categories.

    Observe how we, theists and atheists, leap from a concept of existence which is entirely sensible in our everyday lives at human scale, to a typically blind assumption that such a simplistic concept of existence is therefore also automatically binding on everything everywhere.

    If it was just uneducated simpletons making this error we could explain it away as being a function of ignorance. But, whoops, pretty much all of us make this error, including the most widely recognized theological and philosophical “experts”. The near universality of the error suggests the problem is arising from something deeper than this or that person, or this or that perspective.

  3. jakefelasco says:

    Hi Dave,

    First, no need to apologize, we aren’t on a schedule and there is no obligation.

    //P1) If we already know about something then it is useless to inquire about it, as we already know about it.
    P2) If we do not know about something then we can not begin to inquire about it, so it is useless to inquire about it.
    C1) Therefore inquiry is pointless.//

    Well, let’s see. I don’t agree inquiry is pointless, or I guess I wouldn’t be here. Even if inquiry accomplishes nothing beyond entertainment, that’s still a value which can be appreciated.

    That said, my own inquiry has led me to the perspective that we shouldn’t automatically assume that the acquisition of knowledge is always the highest value. This seems particularly true in those cases where there is no evidence that the acquisition of knowledge is possible. It also seems true in those cases where we might acquire more knowledge than we can successfully manage.

    I would decline a simplistic binary assumption such as:

    knowledge=good
    ignorance=bad

    Instead, I’d see knowledge and ignorance as being parts of a single holistic system, much like night/day, up/down, left/right etc.

    What makes life magical as a child? Ignorance. What makes scientific discovery exciting? Ignorance. What takes the joy out of many marriages leading to their collapse? Not enough ignorance, leading to not enough magic etc.

    Not sure how responsive this is to your question, so I’ll stop here for now and await further guidance.

    • [Well, let’s see. I don’t agree inquiry is pointless, or I guess I wouldn’t be here. Even if inquiry accomplishes nothing beyond entertainment, that’s still a value which can be appreciated.]

      It’s an answer, but one that does not really get at the heart of the problem of the Paradox of Inquiry. I completely and wholeheartedly agree that inquiry is not pointless. Like you say, you obviously do not either or you would not be here. However, the Paradox of Inquiry is an argument for why attempting to gain knowledge is pointless. It first proposes that when we know something, we don’t have to inquire about it because we already have that knowledge. It then proposes that when we do not know something, then we cannot begin to inquire about it because we have no knowledge about it, and therefore have no way of beginning an inquiry into it.

      Here is how I would sum up the problems with the Paradox of Inquiry, let me know what what you think. The problem with the Paradox of Inquiry is that it treats knowledge as an all or nothing thing. It treats knowledge about something as if you either know all there is to know about something, or you know absolutely nothing about something. However, that is not how knowledge actually works. We can know a little bit about something, and still have a lot to learn about that thing. Or we can only know the smallest amount about something, and that can then drive us to learn more about that.

      So, I have now introduced you to the Paradox of Inquiry, something that you probably had never heard of before, well unless you were a reader of Plato or a student of philosophy. You could then use that little bit of information to learn where the Paradox of Inquiry started (with Gorgias in Plato’s Meno), and then you could then use that information to go on and see what Socrates said about the paradox, and then use that to go on and find out what other philosophers have said about the paradox.

      This means that knowledge is not an all or nothing situation, knowledge can be gained bit by bit and built up into a larger body. Knowledge can also be discussed, examined, questioned, and even discarded when shown that what we didn’t have was knowledge but instead was just opinion. Do you agree with this summation of the paradox?

      [That said, my own inquiry has led me to the perspective that we shouldn’t automatically assume that the acquisition of knowledge is always the highest value. This seems particularly true in those cases where there is no evidence that the acquisition of knowledge is possible. It also seems true in those cases where we might acquire more knowledge than we can successfully manage.

      I would decline a simplistic binary assumption such as:

      knowledge=good
      ignorance=bad

      Instead, I’d see knowledge and ignorance as being parts of a single holistic system, much like night/day, up/down, left/right etc.

      What makes life magical as a child? Ignorance. What makes scientific discovery exciting? Ignorance. What takes the joy out of many marriages leading to their collapse? Not enough ignorance, leading to not enough magic etc.

      Not sure how responsive this is to your question, so I’ll stop here for now and await further guidance.]

      Remember what I said in the last comment about how during discussions like this on the internet we often start 2/3 of the way into a discussion, forgetting to lay the groundwork? This is an example of that. You have gone from an answer to a foundational question to a conclusion that is not necessarily led to by that answer, without going through all of the thinking and arguments necessary to reach that conclusion. So from now how about rather than jumping to conclusions, we focus on what’s being discussed at the time, we can get to things like this when it gets there, rather than trying to jump directly to these conclusions?

  4. jakefelasco says:

    Hi Dave,

    //You could then use that little bit of information to learn where the Paradox of Inquiry started (with Gorgias in Plato’s Meno), and then you could then use that information to go on and see what Socrates said about the paradox, and then use that to go on and find out what other philosophers have said about the paradox.//

    FYI, reading what dead strangers may have said about something isn’t really part of my method, but to each their own of course, not passing judgment on what others may find useful.

    //This means that knowledge is not an all or nothing situation, knowledge can be gained bit by bit and built up into a larger body. Knowledge can also be discussed, examined, questioned, and even discarded when shown that what we didn’t have was knowledge but instead was just opinion. Do you agree with this summation of the paradox?//

    Yes, and I would add this. The pursuit of knowledge can be discarded in those cases when an inquiry reveals that it isn’t as useful as the lack of knowledge it is attempting to replace.

    As example, I spend a LOT of time in a very convenient state park 4 miles up the road. I’ve been doing this for 15 years and so know the park very well. If I could discard my knowledge of the park I could experience the joy of discovery again.

    As example, one of the perils of aging is that one has seen all the petty human ego melodramas unfold a million times, and whereas they once seemed quite interesting, they can now be profoundly boring, just as you are likely bored with children’s toys. That is, sometimes we geezers sometimes suffer from too much knowledge.

    More to the point, it seems helpful to reflect that knowledge is just a pile of symbols in our brain. It’s not the “real world” the symbols point to, just as your photo on Facebook is not the real living breathing you, but merely a symbol which points to the real Dave.

    This is a big subject, an important one, I won’t try to type it all right now as this is a comment, and not a book. 🙂

    // So from now how about rather than jumping to conclusions, we focus on what’s being discussed at the time, we can get to things like this when it gets there, rather than trying to jump directly to these conclusions?//

    I’m agreeable to trying to accommodate your interests if you will allow me to gently remark that I appear to be somewhere between two to three times your age, and so will sometimes leap over things which I left behind decades ago. That said, tell me what you wish to discuss and I’ll try to engage you there.

    In related news, I’m curious if you are familiar with this site. https://blog.apaonline.org/ Many professional philosophers, most around your age.

    • [FYI, reading what dead strangers may have said about something isn’t really part of my method, but to each their own of course, not passing judgment on what others may find useful.]

      This irrelevant to the point being made, because whether or not you actually do these suggested things, these suggested things are ways of going from zero knowledge, to a little bit of knowledge, to a lot of knowledge. On another note, disregarding ‘what dead strangers may have said about something’ is a terrible method.

      [Yes, and I would add this. The pursuit of knowledge can be discarded in those cases when an inquiry reveals that it isn’t as useful as the lack of knowledge it is attempting to replace.]

      ‘Isn’t as useful’ is a very fuzzy term, and you would need to make an argument to support this. Once again you are stating a conclusion from an argument that does not lead to that conclusion. However, it is also irrelevant to the discussion that we are having, which is about the acquisition of knowledge. One of your many criticisms, including on this piece, is that we may not have the ability to acquire knowledge about certain things. You keep asking for ‘justification that reason can answer the bigger questions’, yet here we are having a conversation about such justification and you keep trying to avert the conversation to other places. So, if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to continue with the discussion about the acquisition of knowledge, and justification of the acquisition of knowledge, especially with pertaining to answering bigger questions. This is the point you keep making, and this is the point that I am attempting to discuss.

      [More to the point, it seems helpful to reflect that knowledge is just a pile of symbols in our brain. It’s not the “real world” the symbols point to, just as your photo on Facebook is not the real living breathing you, but merely a symbol which points to the real Dave.]

      Why do you think this is pertinent to the current conversation?

      [I’m agreeable to trying to accommodate your interests if you will allow me to gently remark that I appear to be somewhere between two to three times your age, and so will sometimes leap over things which I left behind decades ago. That said, tell me what you wish to discuss and I’ll try to engage you there.]

      I highly doubt that you are two to three times my age, but thank you for agreeing to stick to the topic at hand. When I feel you are moving the discussion away from what is relevant I will mention it.

      In related news, I’m curious if you are familiar with this site. https://blog.apaonline.org/ Many professional philosophers, most around your age.

  5. jakefelasco says:

    //On another note, disregarding ‘what dead strangers may have said about something’ is a terrible method.//

    Write an article about this and we can discuss it. Until then, what any of us say about reality is second hand information.

    //Isn’t as useful’ is a very fuzzy term, and you would need to make an argument to support this.//

    I did make an argument. You ignored it. 🙂 No problem, just sayin, that’s all.

    //Once again you are stating a conclusion from an argument that does not lead to that conclusion. However, it is also irrelevant to the discussion that we are having, which is about the acquisition of knowledge. //

    Are you going to lecture me a lot? If you are, could you please state your age for the record? Thanks. 🙂

    //One of your many criticisms, including on this piece, is that we may not have the ability to acquire knowledge about certain things. //

    Yes, that’s what the God debate demonstrates. At least 500 years of very earnest investigation and debate led by some of the brightest minds among us, and we’re still right where we started. Rather than actually listen to the evidence developed by this experiment, we keep trying to do the same thing that has already repeatedly failed, while expecting different results, thus meeting Einstein’s definition of stupidity.

    ///You keep asking for ‘justification that reason can answer the bigger questions’, yet here we are having a conversation about such justification and you keep trying to avert the conversation to other places. //

    Um, the article was about design, a topic BOTH of us seem to have abandoned. Not complaining, just saying…

    //So, if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to continue with the discussion about the acquisition of knowledge, and justification of the acquisition of knowledge, especially with pertaining to answering bigger questions. This is the point you keep making, and this is the point that I am attempting to discuss.//

    Ok, sounds good, please continue.

    //Why do you think this is pertinent to the current conversation?//

    If it is knowledge you wish to discuss, it seems useful to keep in mind that your Facebook photo (symbolic) and the living breathing Dave (reality) are two very different things. Focusing on our thoughts about reality (knowledge) and focusing on reality itself, two very different things.

    //I highly doubt that you are two to three times my age, but thank you for agreeing to stick to the topic at hand. ///

    Well, ok, this is easily settled. I’m 67. And you are….?

    • [I did make an argument. You ignored it. 🙂 No problem, just sayin, that’s all.]

      The argument you made was that you wish you could forget all the things you learned about a park over the last 15 years so that it would become exciting again. That does not show that unlearning things, or forgetting knowledge, would be ‘more useful’. At best it shows that we might gain some enjoyment from forgetting some knowledge. It also, as I said, is irrelevant to the question of whether or not we can gain knowledge.

      [Are you going to lecture me a lot? If you are, could you please state your age for the record? Thanks. 🙂]

      I’m not lecturing you, I am stating that it is irrelevant to the discussion about the acquisitions of knowledge. Going down routes that are irrelevant to the discussion means that we will move away from what the discussion is actually about, which would be pointless.

      [Yes, that’s what the God debate demonstrates. At least 500 years of very earnest investigation and debate led by some of the brightest minds among us, and we’re still right where we started. Rather than actually listen to the evidence developed by this experiment, we keep trying to do the same thing that has already repeatedly failed, while expecting different results, thus meeting Einstein’s definition of stupidity.]

      Ok, it doesn’t really demonstrate that we cannot gain knowledge about the bigger questions though. It demonstrates that there are those that do not agree on what is said, or that perhaps we do not have all of the information yet. Neither of those things demonstrate that we cannot know. We have people that argue that evolution is false, and people that argue that evolution is true. Does this disagreement that has gone on for over century show that we cannot gain knowledge about evolution? Or, for example, imagine if one person had knowledge about something, like say my name. Imagine if the only people that actually knew my name was yourself and myself. Now imagine if everyone else in the world believed that my name was Robert, and no amount of evidence or argument would convince them otherwise. Would that mean that knowledge cannot be gained about my name, or would it simply mean that people refuse to accept the knowledge of what my name is? Consider now too the resurgence of the flat-Earth theory. Does the fact that we are once again arguing over the shape of the Earth mean that we cannot determine the shape of the Earth? Or that we can never gain knowledge about the shape of the Earth?

      One could argue here that we have means of physically verifying the shape of the Earth, like photographs from satellites, or rockets. However, we have those, and yet flat-Earthers refuse to accept those as evidence, and come up with reasons for not accepting that they are evidence. We even have those that solved the problem using human reason, which helps further support the visual evidence. Yet, flat-Earthers refuse that as evidence as well, instead claiming that they are the smarter ones, and they are the ones that have the answer. Does this debate give us evidence that we cannot gain knowledge about the shape of the Earth? Or does it simply mean that one side is wrong, and rejects evidence based on reasons that are less than rational?

      There could be a whole host of psychological, or psychosocial, reasons that people refuse to accept certain information and knowledge. Even in the cases where we have solid evidence that one side is right, we see a wrong side arguing vehemently that the side that is right is actually wrong. This disagreement says nothing about the knowledge of the side that is right, and says nothing about our ability to gain knowledge. It speaks volumes about psychological and psychosocial makeups of humans, and speaks volumes about our ability to accept knowledge, but says nothing about our ability to gain knowledge. This is why I am attempting to go through the argument step by step, rather than simply arguing conclusions. Arguing conclusions does little except having people argue that their conclusion is the right conclusion, whereas if we show the thinking behind each step that leads to the conclusion then more understanding of a position can be gained. We can also see where and why we disagree, or even agree, on each of these steps.

      [Um, the article was about design, a topic BOTH of us seem to have abandoned. Not complaining, just saying…]

      Yes, the article was about design, but your criticisms, which I am attempting to address, are about the acquisition of knowledge, especially with pertaining to answering bigger questions.

      [Ok, sounds good, please continue.]

      Thank you.

      [If it is knowledge you wish to discuss, it seems useful to keep in mind that your Facebook photo (symbolic) and the living breathing Dave (reality) are two very different things. Focusing on our thoughts about reality (knowledge) and focusing on reality itself, two very different things.]

      Ok, but why is it pertinent to this discussion about the acquisition of knowledge? In what way does this make a difference to this discussion?

      [Well, ok, this is easily settled. I’m 67. And you are….?]

      I’m 48, so no, you are not ‘two to three times’ my age. You are not even 20 years older than me. It is also irrelavent to the discussion, unless you are going to argue that your age trumps my arguments, and that I should accept your arguments based solely on your age.