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Jantzen, Benjamin C.
An Introduction to Design Arguments.
Cambridge u. a.: Cambridge University Press 2014. XVI, 335 S. m. 34 Abb. u. 2 Tab. = Cambridge Introductions to Philosophy. Kart. £ 19,99. ISBN 978-0-521-18303-1.
Benjamin C. Jantzen undertakes a very ambitious project in this book. He aims for »a neutral philosophical reconstruction and an-alysis of the entire field of design arguments advanced from the rise of Western philosophy in ancient Greece to the present day« (XIII). This explains the length of a book on the history and merit of design arguments, which J. manages to cover very well and without sacrificing significant depth. The reader should distrust the fol-lowing line in the Preface: »I have sacrificed some depth in favor of breadth in order to give the reader a coherent picture of the entire landscape of the design debate« (XIII). J. discusses not only the major and minor players in the history of design arguments, showing how Cicero and Paley held notable positions in that history, but also »unusual design arguments« (chapter 6) where Berkeley’s vis-ual language argument, Reid’s and Whewell’s arguments from direct perception, and Francis Hutcheson’s argument from beauty are discussed in detail. Even Paley’s plagiarism of the argument from analogy receives attention from J. in a chapter entitled »Loose Ends«, where, among other things, he credits the plagiarized Bernard Nieuwentyt of a distinct argument than the ones Paley extracts from it.
The book is also ambitious because it aims to be introductory, critical, and neutral. J. eases the reader into the rich field of design arguments by introducing formal logic in the »Preliminaries« chapter. But he makes substantial use of logic in the book and I think only the patient student of philosophy will be able to follow the reconstructions and analysis J. makes of the various design arguments he discusses. This is not a critique of J. as I am not certain how the design arguments, whether in ancient or contemporary form, could be explained otherwise. J. does an excellent job in keeping the non-initiate in mind, and I am only advising readers to be patient when they bring their passion and interest to the topic.
J. finds no contradiction in the idea of being simultaneously neutral and critical: »This book is a systematic attempt to deter-mine which, if any, design arguments are convincing […] to ascertain whether any such argument succeeds – or has the potential to succeed – in establishing the existence of a god or gods on the basis of our experience of the world« (2). For J. to be neutral on this task he needs to set aside any religious or scientific biases he might have on the subject and, as far as I can tell, no biased agenda either for or against these two disciplines was present in the book. I think the only »bias« J. exhibits his detailed scientific knowledge of biology, physics, and logic. This is a welcome »bias« for a topic that requires specialized knowledge alongside philosophical aptitude.
The book is critically centered on the question of whether or not any design argument is successful in its aims of proving design and a divine designer behind it. J.’s overall answer is that none of the arguments has been successful, in the sense of being sound, even if some could be reformulated to become valid – e. g., Aquinas’s fifth way. Socrates is credited with the first design argument (30 f.), but Cicero’s account of four families of design arguments in De natura deorom, all appearing in the Stoic literature before him (44), is rightly treated as the most authoritative account on the subject up to the scientific revolution. These families of arguments – from order, from analogy, from purpose, and from providence – are critically discussed in their various trajectories in medieval, modern and contemporary forms.
In the medieval period, J. singles out Aquinas’s fifth way (»Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence«), as a significantly developed argument that is ultimately unsuccessful because it commits the quantifier shift fallacy – »For all x there exists a y such that xRy, therefore there exists a y such that for all x, it is the case that xRy« – even when it is strengthened and made valid (52–57). The modern versions of the arguments from analogy and order critiqued by Hume are his own creation, J. argues (99–114), but even when Paley plagiarizes Nieuwentyt’s watch example, along with additional structural analyses, to revive the arguments and prove Hume wrong, he fails (124–31). I do not have the space to show exactly how J. makes his argument, but I can say that he thinks Paley’s ultimate intentions are after an argument from purpose rather than analogy (or inference to the best explanation), and that he – J. – can extract from him a plausible argument from order that does not beg the question in the way the other arguments do.
If I understood J. correctly, he accepts and borrows the logic behind the law of thermodynamics, where certain chemical reac-tions are taken to be incapable of existing without an independent input of energy (313), to argue that many systems in each organism are goal-directed, and since goal directed systems can only be produced by design (similarly to the way chemical reactions are produced by an external source), there exists a designer of organisms (133). But J. is only reconstructing a plausible argument from order in Paley to show that even its sophisticated form fails the »test,« or premise, of Darwinian logic. Darwin’s natural selection offers an alternative explanation for how goal-directedness is developed, he argues, where the options to consider design are not limited to either chance or a designer of some sort, but to a third alternative – blind natural selection (152).
Can there not be a successful design argument that takes Darwin’s alternative into consideration? At this stage in the book, J. turns to discuss mathematical and more recent scientific accounts of design, including the likelihood argument for design (chapter 11) and the arguments from irreducible complexity and specified complexity, which were developed in the writings of Michael Behe and William Dembski, respectively (chapters 12–13). But none of these arguments is successful in his judgment because they do not rely on a natural law that could justifiably link intelligence with a particular property such as order or design without objections. It is not clear if J. thought these mathematical-scientific arguments tackle the Darwinian challenge, or whether he thought the fine tuning argument, which he discusses in the last two chapters of the book, does the job. He ends the book with questions that need to be answered first, he states, before a judgment could be made about arguments from fine tuning – e. g., What is an explanation and when can we reasonably demand one? Or does it make sense to speak of selection processes on universes? (313).
I found that J. asks good questions here and not only about the role the laws of nature play in design inferences (240–56). He also asks the appropriate, but up to that point neglected, question as to what is really meant by a supernatural agent, either in religion or in design arguments (249). Knowing the answer to this question would have been helpful in J.’s various discussions of design arguments, and I do not think his answer does justice to the question. I cannot develop a critique of this point here but when I read that »a supernatural agent is in part an intelligent being« who is able to use large quantities of matter and energy or change natural laws (with the assumption that this is done causally) (249), and that »claims about the existence of deities can be crafted so as to func-tion as scientific hypotheses« (256), I balk at these suggestions. I am reminded here with confused forms of atheism propagated by the New Atheists that rest on the same type of assumptions. This is also shown in J.’s agreement with Del Ratzsch that »trying to draw a line between inferences to the existence of intelligent extraterrestrials as SETI attempts to do and inferences to God is ill-motivated and probably hopeless« (256). This only demonstrates to those in phi-losophy of religion the risks of entering a field not one’s own.
I mentioned that J. is not biased against or toward religion, and I would say here that there is confusion, rather than bias, in his position on what a supernatural agent is. He is strong as a philosopher of science and logic, as the whole book demonstrates, but I would have liked more attention to conceptual elucidations re-garding the divine reality that is purported to be behind the world design and purpose. This is particularly important for someone who writes »If philosophy is about anything, it is about getting clear on one’s assumptions« (310). Otherwise, this is truly an excellent book.