Tag Archives: design

Questions I Can’t Answer are So Unfair!

boy_child_119488After arguing against the all-too-common straw man of “the theistic hypothesis”, Mackie takes an interesting turn in his argument against design in the universe. He continues his discussion of Hume’s Dialoges, claiming that alternate explanations of apparent design are more valid and, of all things, accusing theists of taking an unfair approach.

Of course, theists often do take an unfair approach, but the idea he criticizes seems to me to be perfectly fair. Mackie points out that there are any number of explanations for the appearance of design in the universe. The regularity of the solar system, the biological features of this or that species, etc. can all be explained without reference to God.

So long as we’re discussing science, I completely agree. However, Mackie eventually gets to the idea that the initial conditions of the universe must have allowed for the regularities on which these things depend, and begins to struggle to offer a plausible alternative.

Failing to present an alternative, he relies instead on criticizing the argument itself. He doesn’t challenge any premise on any argument regarding the fine-tuning of the universe. Instead, he claims that the whole idea requires that the cause of the universe envisaged current designs–rather than simply causing them.

Surely, these arguments lead eventually to that conclusion, but Mackie is claiming that the arguments simply demand this from the beginning. I’ve read a great deal on fine-tuning arguments, and have never encountered one that requires any such thing. Rather, they tend to present design as the best explanation for the fine-tuning, but there is nothing about the premises of the arguments that require orderly systems to be envisaged. And I have no idea why Mackie thinks otherwise.

But he also makes a more interesting objection. That is, he claims that, since the initial conditions of the universe (whatever they end up being) will explain why life and other orderly systems can exist, then it is too much to wonder why those conditions, and not others, were the case. That is, these conditions explain the state we’re in, and we’d be overloading the explanation to ask why the potential for this state was in those conditions. As such, Mackie insists that we simply not ask this question.

Indeed. We would be overloading that explanation for the very simple reason that it isn’t good enough.

The fact that the conditions of early Earth explain why it is hospitable to life does not answer the question “what caused those conditions to be what they are?”. I think Mackie would agree that replying with “they caused life, and it’s unfair to want an explanation as to how they might have come to be such that they could cause life” as a valid response.

But this is precisely his argument with respect to the universe.

And this fits into what seems to be a larger pattern. The origin of the universe is the single most obvious (to materialists) problem with materialism. When issues surrounding it are raised, the materialist’s response always seems to be a variation on “let’s not answer that question”.

But, so long as one is allowed to dismiss the questions that one’s worldview can’t answer, then there is never any real consideration going on. The only thing left to do is drop the pretense that we’re giving theism a fair hearing.

But Mackie has more to say about the argument for design. I’ll continue with that next.